Dissolving a Dystopia: A short discussion on Zamyatin’s “We,” and Rand’s “Anthem”

What defines the human condition as we know it. Is it happiness? The ability to form rational thoughts? Is it scientific progress, development of knowledge? Within the context of “We” and “Anthem,” it is none of these traits. For both D-503 and Equality 7-2521, it is individualism, something the reader takes for granted.

Throughout both of these stories, each protagonist struggles to find who they really are, to break from the shackles of the dystopian ‘we.’ On page 71 of “Anthem,” Equality 7-2521 assets, “ I am. I think. I will.” These three sentences form the core theme of the short story, that dystopia is broken by the concept of the individual. This parallels Zamyatin’s dystopia, where only when D-503 discovers divergence from the table of hours and the equality between men that he realizes this core human characteristic. However, in “We,” this discovery comes not directly from D-503 but from I-330, who has crafted her own path amid the fog of equality. She shows D-503 that the rules of the collective society do not apply to her own self. In both stories, this identification of self leads to a break down of the dystopian atmosphere set in stone by the two cities, and eventually forms a basis of revolution that aims to restore the human condition for the inhabitants of each city.

On page 75 of “Anthem”, Liberty 5-3000 tells our protagonist, “I love you.” Love is another fundamental human trait, as a derivation of individualism, and it acts as a driving factor throughout both stories. In both stories, the protagonists find a piece of themselves through identification of a sole love interest. This further dissolves the dystopian backdrop of each narrative, once mutual love exists between characters the role of ‘we’ shifts. Instead of relating the whole of society, it relates just two people, and their individualistic tendencies to place one above the whole. When only a totalitarian ‘we’ exists, there is no room for the love of another individual, because individuals do not exist.

A final central theme for each of these dystopias, revolution, is present in each. In “Anthem,” we note that when Equality 7-2521 finds this indepence from communal ideals, he is charged with a new passion to defeat the collectivity of the city he was raised in. More important than his campaign though, is the cyclical nature of revolution. Both dystopias follow a period of war that reduces society to the strict collective unit, devoid of freedom, because it is this very freedom that leads to conflict. Without freedom of soul and mind, I versus we, there can be no conflict. By the end of each story, a new war is started, created on the basis of individualism. Even in “We,” where we see the final failure of D-503, the revolution will still occur, carried forward by those who showed him what it was to be human. The following conflicts may not resolve the dystopian control, but further the seeds of doubt in the minds of future protagonists. Just as I-330 states, “There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.” The destruction of imagination and uniqueness cannot prevail, because these traits are a fundamentally human concept. Without them, we cease to know what makes us humans, and without us, there is no utopia. Individualism, as developed by D-503 and Equality 7-2521 through both narratives, acts as the diffusing agent of totalitarian dystopia. Once the reader sees this rise of individualism, they understand the fluidity of human nature, and the inherent unstableness in dystopias that aim to destroy what it means to be ‘we’ and not ‘I’.


Finding A Style

Creativity has no bounds. A popular saying, but in my case, it wasn’t true. I was able to find my passion for photography shooting from an iPhone. Yet, there were many shots that I couldn’t quite nail without a proper setup. The angles weren’t right, the exposure was off. The shots were blurry, and they didn’t deliver the message that I aimed to share.


My mind was filled with ideas, shots I wanted to take. As my ambitions raised, so did my frustration with the limitations of the phone’s camera. These limitations inadvertently created a fiery passion to go take more photos. Classes went by slowly, taking in physics knowledge I had already learned before. I shifted through work, watching the clock tick as I made pizza after pizza. Grab a dough, press it, sauce, cheese, toppings, into the oven. All I wanted to do was get out and capture the environment I found myself alone in. I was out and about many nights. The moment I got home, I’d throw on my jacket and set out. Soon I would find myself off campus, trawling through suburbs searching for whatever I could lay my greedy eyes on.


Light. There was always a search for light, wherever I could find it. Without a tripod or a long exposure, it was difficult. Most sources were too intense. Or the opposite, I would find an interesting subject with no way to capture it. Slowly I developed a style, or maybe a trend would better describe it. Outside door lamps and bright windows became the easiest way to find light, and architecture became a mainstay in my camera roll. Yet, it wasn’t the goal I had in mind, it was boring. A simple piece of cement and brick wasn’t the mood I strived to create. Experimentation came naturally, especially taking hundreds of garbage photos a night. Strange angles, awkward variety, I took weird photos just so I would have some, any, intrigue. Rule of thirds? No thanks, I put simple subjects directly in the frame, hoping the dramatic lighting could spark some desolation.


Buses to and from campus were free, luckily. A reward for selling my soul to tuition debt. One particular night I went to catch the bus to WillVille, a subsection of the campus housing. Slightly too late, my gaze found its way to a leaving bus. So I walked past the stop, determined to get to bed at a reasonable time. A particular building caught my eye, one I hadn’t noticed before right on campus. On a rainy night, the light pollution in Boulder can create ominous red and purplish clouds. Two bright orange sections of the structure glowed against the background. In my mind the picture was perfect, it was that feeling of optimism for the future, despite a disappointing event just occurring. In reality, it came out pretty lame. Some post-processing later, and I had a good photo. Still, the dream in mind was never achieved. I knew at that point that the next step was a real camera, the passion was there, I just needed that final push.


Nighttime Beginnings

After Italy, I continued exploring photography as a hobby, trying to take at least a photo a day with my iPhone. I didn’t really view it as art yet, in some ways I was just trying to prove I could commit to something. On and off could describe my passions during this time, no interest could stay in my line of sight. Even though I was snapping away, the photos carried no intrigue or emotion. I was still happy with the technical aspects behind many of them, but they didn’t have any impact.

Early campus photo

As the semester picked up pace, I found less time to take random photos around campus. Time was short between classes, and my pauses started to fill with calculus. Anytime I wanted to take photos I ended up at work. Calzones instead of creations. Tests ran late, and one night after a tough physics exam I was fed up. In a creative mood, I went out late to take photos regardless. I wasn’t sure how my phone would fare in the dark environment, but it turned out pretty okay.

None of the photos I took that night stood out to me, except this one. There’s something about the single deep blue light source. The single door, and asymmetrical windows. It’s ominous, depressed, disturbed. A summary of the mood I felt on that particular night. Night photography serves as an outlet for these negative emotions. Although I’m often optimistic, exploring melancholy is important to stay generally positive. Inspired by this photo, I’ve continued to strive for a similar vibe in much of my work since.


Canal Visions

My journey with photography started off pretty aimless. I was always interested with the medium, but only decided to pursue the hobby during a trip to Italy at the start of 2018. I had been enjoying snapping shots, feeling like a tourist, but it didn’t feel special. After spending every waking moment with my parents, grandparents, and an aunt for the week, I needed to get out on my own for a little. On the last day I walked around Venice for something like 6 hours, shooting here and there. I walked through the University, past students smoking and enjoying the break. I strolled past tabaccheria here and restaurant there, watching locals relax against the setting sun. At one point, a football appeared at my feet. Looking up I saw a posse of school children, and joined their game. Expectedly, they were far better at the sport. It would be unfair to say I was a local, but I certainly didn’t feel like a tourist by the end of the night. Almost back home, I passed this canal. The light and mood summarized the day, I finally felt like I belonged, just one night before leaving. I’ll be back one day.

In retrospect, I think upping the saturation of this piece took away some of the mood. It’s too blue, and the fakeness detracts. The central curve on the canal adds a nice piece of intrigue to the photo, but I think I could have framed it better. Had I owned my camera then, I would have taken a long exposure to get a glassy look on the water. All in all, this was one of my early photos I was quite proud of.


Interpretations #01

One of the centerpieces of campus architecture here at CU is the University Memorial Center. Affectionately known as the UMC, the building offers a dining hall, the bookstore, and a variety of office space. Oh, and don’t forget the only bowling alley on campus.

This is one of the first photos where I was truly happy with the framing of the building. The low angle of the shot gives the building a larger than life feel. As does the sharp diagonal angle of the shot, letting the building extend past the frame on both sides. I’m a huge fan of the brick architecture most campus buildings share, so I matched it the rocks on the bottom of the frame. The curve of the fence leads you up to the building, and I’m happy with the rest of the leaning lines.

What would I change next time? I would have liked a higher picture quality on this, since this was back when I was shooting with my iPhone still, it’s not the greatest. Although I think the clouds are nice in this picture, it would have been better with a more interesting color on the sky. A better time of day could have produced more interesting shadows as well. I’m usually a fan of more details in my architectural shots, but the branches on the right side of this photo are distracting and reduce focus on the building. I do enjoy the angle, but I think it could have aligned better with the corner of the middle building.


Windows – A Photo Essay

One of my favorite aspects of night photography is finding curiosity and interesting subject matter in the mundane. Nighttime can accentuate architecture, bring different colors to the surface, and most importantly give a greater sense of how light affects an entire scene. Windows arise frequently throughout my photography, sometimes as the centerpiece, and sometimes as a vehicle of another cause.

During very dark nights, sometimes a window is all the light you can find. Colored LED lights are popular amongst the college population here in Boulder, and these pops of color provide a unique subject matter amongst the monotone darkness. Various colors can also lead to different interpretations of what the window represents. Some view this photo and imagine a horror vibe, a spooky aspect. Something scary lies beyond what we can see and the red color is the manifestation of this appeal. A blue-green light is more relaxed, we may think of a group of friends hanging in the room of this window. Not always though, blue can be sad, as we see in the second photo. Enhanced by the sky, this blue window gives us a view into a depressing cycle of office life, abandoned after the sun falls.  

White is less interesting, it doesn’t convey a standout meaning, instead, it is just light against dark. The high contrast of this photo and the noticeable silhouettes still create a sense of doom. Inconsistent placement and size of the windows create an unstable feeling, as most asymmetry can.

Often windows help exaggerate the primary goals of a photo. Although the window is a core subject in the following photo, the standout feature is the shift of color from left to right. A unique shape in the window adds to the curious vibe and helps to contrast the duller purple, blue, and green on the right side of the photo.

Photos give us a view into a different world, and also provide excellent framing. The green glow of this pool facility is ominous, but only because of the lack of people. We know it’s nighttime because of the background, giving this photo more context as opposed to just the pool itself. The bars across the window make us feel like an outsider, are we invited to the subject matter?

Windows can provide reflections, framing the subject matter in a complex system. Seeing the normal neon sign is boring, but through this reflection, we are forced to focus on it’s more distinct details. The white border, some of the interior of the sandwich shop, the lack of crossbars on the letter I. Curves on the window and the side panel of this car lend distortion to the complexity of the photo.

In general, windows can provide a new perspective to your night photography. They provide interesting sources of light, and viewpoints into other worlds. Natural framing, and distortion in the form of reflections. What comes to your mind when you think about the concept of a window? What is a window to a prisoner in a jail cell, or to an executive on top of a skyscraper?

Perhaps, they just let the light in and keep the bugs out.