Photos of Alienation and Despair: A Primer

I’m in a lousy headspace today. The depressive side of my bipolar is at least half-rampant –if rampant happened to be the heraldic term for laying on the couch.  I’m just sorta perched on the edge, waiting for something that’s never coming. Hence, half-rampant.

So I thought I share some photos which I feel depict alienation quite well… plus instructions for their use by the lay person…


Iron rusts from disuse water loses its purity from stagnation and in cold weather becomes frozen even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind. –Leonardo DaVinci
Black and white or sepia tone

The use of black and white or sepia tone, perhaps lit from a slightly skewed angle gives that feeling of decay. Color would just ruin this old, forgotten furniture, adding too much detail.  We cannot have happy yellows in a stifling Texas attic. This way the viewer can feel old, unused, and unloved.  Perfect for birthdays.


“He was an introverted kid, so I didn’t send him to his room as punishment. No, I took him to a party.” ― Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not for Sale
The sad person in an otherwise festive setting.

The sad person in an otherwise festive setting lets the reader know how isolated you feel.  A great one for conveying introversion.  Pro tip: cropping the subject towards the edge makes it looks like he’s trying to escape. Gay Pride Float, Budapest, 2009.


“Most of us need something not to walk away from” ― Josh Stern
This photo combines three im

This photo combines three important elements: slightly off-focus, the subject is walking away, and if you look closely enough, it a graveyard. Pictures like this are especially effective if the person is no longer in your life –or even better, dead. Confession: I am still friends with subject, but I felt the need to include it because it’s a graveyard in Berlin, which has got to add six or seven alienation points. Pro-tip: it’s really easy to compose out of focus shots using the “zoom” feature on the iPhone.


“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.” ― André Malraux

Am I the subject or is the plant? Does it matter? Feel free to let your viewer know you know you mock any investment they may have in you. Bonus juxtaposition! I am obscuring myself in the Philip Johnson “Glass House.” That gives the viewer an added shot of irony, which people love, especially when it’s is as obvious as possible.


“The world is a prison in which solitary confinement is preferable.” ― Karl Kraus

Feeling trapped, say in a never-ending cycle of unemployment or meds or vanishing friends, then you should chose a sad of example of something that should be free… like you wish your dreams were.  Look at this ancient Wollemi Pine being held against its will at the Kingsbrae Gardens in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  Don’t you think it’d be much happier romping with its fellow trees? [Bonus irony points: trees can’t romp; there is no escape.]

“Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt” ― Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

See that mountain in the Highlands of Scotland. Beautiful? No, it’s sublime –just too damn big to be beautiful.  All it can do is threaten to come tumbling down upon that poor little house. By the way, the house is you and your dreams. Including the sublime in your alienation pictures really drives home how insignificant you really are. Pro-tips for New Yorkers: look at all those tall buildings. Tourists may find them beautiful; you should find them sublime.


“And pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked.”
Jane Austen

One surefire way to convey alienation is to take an image everyone associates with joy and discovery, and then show it in an unflattering light.  This is how I encountered the Eiffel Tower when I visited it on a high school trip. Now the Eiffel Tower is ruined –hopefully, ever hopefully –for everyone.  This is why ‘US Magazine’ always shows us stars without make-up. No matter how pretty someone may be in the popular eye, they could always be much, much worse.  This technique also works well if you consider yourself well-liked –just focus on those people who’ve shunned you at any time in the past. You’ll be feeling like a smog-shrouded World Heritage Site in no time.

“Expose yourself to as much randomness as possible.” ― Ben Casnocha

At first this picture of a cherub outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music seems like the furthest thing from alienation.  I mean, he’s a cherub; what’s cuter and more self-actualized than a cherub.  Now add the following quote from the Heavenly Maestro:

Welcome to Heaven’s Most Holy Orchestra! Here’s your triangle.

I honestly hope this helps you the next time you wish to illustrate your alienation. Take care.


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