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Chris Carlson's photo "The Road Home"

Chris Carlson, The Road Home, Endeavour Space Shuttle
Chris Carlson, The Road Home, Endeavour Space Shuttle. AP Photo

After 25 space flights, the NASA space shuttle Endeavour made her last mission, it was a journey through the roads of Los Angeles. Her final home will not be in Florida from where she made her missions; instead she will be at the California Science Center (Bernstein and Lopez). Chris Carlson’s photograph of the Endeavor moving down a residential street in Los Angeles not only captured the departure of an American icon; he also captured the end of an era. With this photo he effectively appealed to our pathos by using four different design principles to articulate his perspective in his photo called The Road Home. The four principles are iconic representation, top-down lighting bias, framing, and the von Restorff Effect.

There are a couple obvious uses of iconic representation in Carlson’s photo. The first one is the shuttle itself. The full, unobstructed view of the ship invokes a sense of nostalgia and reminds us how it is a national symbol of adventure, exploration and progress. It has inspired the dreams of millions of people and there it is, being towed by pick-up truck down a residential street. Another noticeable icon is the gas station. Gas stations are the ubiquitous representation of American mobility and consumption. The Endeavour epitomized the American passion for mobility, traveling far beyond than our cars and gasoline could ever take us.

Also, the American flag along the side of Endeavour with “United States” written next to it is another important national icon. It incites the pride that many Americans have in knowing that we were the first and still are the only country to have sent a man to the moon. For millions of Americans, the space program embodies the patriotic spirit of the United States and it represents our passion for progress. By clearly depicting the American flag, Carlson is deeply appealing to the pathos of many Americans, helping them to connect with his photo.

Another technique used in The Road Home is called top-down lighting bias. Top-down lighting makes objects appear natural, giving people a sense of familiarity (Butler, Holden, and Lidwell, 240). The time of day the photo was taken provided for direct sunlight to shine upon the shuttle’s fuselage. Capturing the space shuttle with this kind of lighting really helped make the ship appear natural and easily recognizable, which I believe enhanced its nostalgic effect.

Light has a dramatic effect on the feel of a photo and the top-down lighting makes the entire scene appear natural and pleasant. The rooftops and the people in the street are easily visible and seem very familiar. The photographer did great job taking advantage of the top-down lighting that was available and using it to further convey the message of his photo.

Framing, another technique, is used to influence the way people feel and think about something they are viewing. With the use of context, words or images, it is used to manipulate emotions (Butler, Holden, and Lidwell, 108). Carlson’s use of framing in this photograph is very precise and powerful. Anther one of America’s great inventions, a suburb, surrounds The Endeavour as she is pulled down the street. The title of the photo, The road home, not only describes the journey of the shuttle, it also describes the environment in which it has been photographed. By capturing the ship surrounded by homes Carlson appears to be telling us that the shuttle is home, among the American people. He shows us an American icon outside of her typical scene of a launch pad or in orbit and lets us see her among the people who have built and supported her.

The strong framing of this portion of Endeavour’s journey aids in invoking emotions and creating attachment to the subject. The neighborhood of modern homes surrounding the shuttle helps induce nostalgic feelings, which contain both pleasant and unpleasant aspects (Havlena and Holak). The exciting visual of seeing the ship pass through a neighborhood mixed with the knowledge that this trip represents the end of NASA’s shuttle program incites “bittersweet” feelings.

Lastly, another technique used by the photographer is the von Restorff Effect. This technique is applied when the subject is noticeably different from other things in the same context (Butler, Holden, and Lidwell, 254). The main unique and interesting thing about this photo is that the space shuttle is out of her typical surroundings and is now surrounded by homes. Endeavour starkly sits among the sameness and blandness of modern houses and brilliantly emerges as a source of awe and inspiration. Visually, this is extremely appealing and effective. When the photo is first looked at, the eyes immediately go straight to the shuttle making it very easy for the viewer to recognize the subject of the photo.

The application of the von Restorff effect in The road home greatly appeals to pathos by showing modern new homes as plain and bland up against a wonderful and amazing piece of technology from the past. The many houses that surround the ship are of similar shape, color and size, making them almost indistinguishable from one another. This further reinforces feelings of nostalgia, longing for a time when dreams were much more grandiose than monotonous subdivisions.

Chris Carlson did an excellent job at appealing to the viewers’ pathos with his photo, The road home, featured in Time magazine. He cleverly and clearly used photography to say the same thing that many Americans were probably feeling about the momentous event of the space shuttle Endeavour retiring to her final home at the California Science Center. The photo depicts her standing out like the American icon she is, rolling through a residential neighborhood of modern plain homes fading into the background. Carlson effectively showed his viewers the end of an era through the implementation of four different design principles that are used to help people connect to images on deeper levels. Making an argument with an image can be very challenging and to do it well, one must use several of the known tools that exist to connect with audiences like Chris Carlson so effectively did in The road home.


Bernstein, Sharon and Lolita Lopez. “Endeavour Arrives at California Science Center.” NBC Southern California, October 15, 2012. Web. October 23, 2012.

Butler, Jill, Kritina Holden, and William Lidwell. Universal Principles of Design. 2010 ed. Beverly: Rockport, 2003. Print.

Carlson, Chris. The road home. Photograph. 2012. Time, October 29, 2012. Print.

Havlena , William J. and Susan L. Holak. “”The Good Old Days” Observations on Nostalgia and Its Role in Consumer Behavior ” in Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18: Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 323-329. Association for Consumer Research. Web. October 23, 2012.

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