Arts to Sciences: Photo Essay
Robert Coles has stressed on the fact every now and then in his book ‘Doing Documentary Work’ that a photographer’s work reflects not only her or his perception about the subject but also the place from where the artist belongs and what s/he is feeling emotionally. The fact that surprises me is how different photographers can perceive the same subject in umpteen ways. Another important aspect that I learnt is that it is most difficult to capture something that is personal. Until now I have been taking pictures of landscapes, happy people, fancy pens etc but I have never been able to relate to these photos.
The project ‘Arts to Sciences’ reflects who I am and where I belong most of the time, being a graduate student. It started as a change project where I wanted to show the transition of semester with the help of my study table but I noticed that even though the books and other things were moving around, there were several things like a travel map and Broadway show brochures that were always there. This struck me as something that reflects my desire to explore the city amidst all the chaos going around on the table, which also signifies the chaos in my life as the semester progresses. So, this turned into a bigger project with the idea of photographing study tables of other students to see what is consistent in their lives amidst the chaos.
As I started photographing study tables, I felt it was getting monotonous so I included the people in the pictures pretending to study. And then, I read Coles’ differentiation between Natural Scientists and Social Scientists. He says "...careers usually made in the social sciences as a consequence of one's willingness and capacity to move from the specific instance to the more general, the conceptual." and "... we hear of science, a systematic ordering of knowledge presumably based on the softing and sorting of information..." (Coles, 1997) He defines natural science as being specific and orderly whereas social science as being general and mostly conceptual. Being a natural science student who made a switch to social sciences, I was able to relate to what the author was trying to convey. This further inspired me to study the tables and the workspaces like labs etc. of natural science students. I was unable to make a clear distinction but I did find that labs in the natural sciences portray order and specificity. An interesting extension to this project would be to capture the work areas of arts students who do pottery and sculpting.
The overarching aim of this project was to study these three different realms of academics: natural science, social science and arts; and be able to find subtle similarities in these loud differences. I also feel that if there was an academic scale, arts and sciences would be at opposite ends of it with social science lingering somewhere in between.
So I started asking around to get access to an art room and a science lab. I got lucky in getting into two chemistry labs and a sculpting room. For social science, we only have work spaces so I asked around a few friends with their cubicles around campus. When I started putting the pictures together, my intention was to start with showing specificity and attention to detail in a science lab and move towards generalized work space in social science and to completely chaotic freedom in an arts room. However as I started progressing, I was unable to get three representative pictures from each to put in group of threes. So social sciences was dropped and I started putting together sculpting room and chemistry lab pictures in pairs. But it turns out that I found more similarities than differences. Here is the result of my four month long project:
Coles, R. (1997). Doing documentary work. New York Public Library.
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