Beneath the Surface: Researcher 'Portraits'


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Making connections with researchers is essential to the success of a project like this. I always attempt to create non-facial portraits of my collaborators as an attempt to characterize many parts of who they are as scientists, educators, and people in one, unique visual work. Below you will find several samples from the Extreme Materials Project.

Breaking Together: Dr. KT Ramesh -  founding director of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute.

One of the more memorable moments at HEMI was when Dr. KT Ramesh walked into a meeting wearing this tie. It is the result of a ritual he has with his students at the end of the semester, as they turn in their final exam, they are handed a scissors and invited to cut off a piece of his tie. It reminded me of a genius, yet unintentional fluxus work of art, and stuck in my head in a similar way. After photographing the distressed tie in the studio, I began photographing some samples from Dr. Ramesh’s lab using the same lighting and background. Instinctually, I seemed to be attempting to recreate the form of the tie. Together they become an image pair that I believe is a very nice portrait of HEMI’s founding director, KT Ramesh; a researcher who learns a great deal from breaking matter apart and a teacher who inspires open-minded creativity with his students who has built an institute that reflects those aspirations.

Pasta, Tofu or Chicken Breast: Brain research with Dr. Shailesh Ganpule & Dr. Nitin Daphalapurkar

HEMI’s research is dedicated to the goal of protection, and does so in a variety of forms. When I began my residency, I had mostly imagined themes of space and armor, but was quickly inspired by the brain trauma research. Much of this work involves computer modeling to understand why brain damage occurs and through that greater understanding, how to develop materials that can absorb impact in more effective ways. The use of computer modeling makes sense, since you can’t just injure a living subject in order to observe them, but there are serious challenges to this, for the researchers and an artist wanting to see some action. In the first month at HEMI, I saw Dr. Shailesh Ganpule present his research at a conference, during which he described one of the big challenges of modeling brain movement was deciding if its density is more like “spaghetti, tofu or chicken breast.” This was the analogy that would not leave my head. It was funny, a little gross, but a perfect description of the way HEMI researchers are invited to think and such a beautiful phrase deserves a grand depiction to reflect its positive goals.

Awe-inspiring Scale: Dr. Kavan Hazeli

Perhaps one of my favorite moments at HEMI was when Dr. Kavan Hazeli invited me to discuss asteroids, the AIDA mission and let me hold some amazing meteorite samples that were prepared for testing. This tiny sample is loaded with detail that to the many of the HEMI researchers, offers numerous clues to how the material will respond to extreme impact. I wanted to see it bigger and bigger and bigger, each time appreciating the material more deeply (especially in the 13' final exhibition print). Working with HEMI has enlarged my view of material research and this extreme image reflects that experience and invites viewers into a similar sense of awe.

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