I always have at least one camera with me at all times, and now that I have a toddler most of my images are made between work and home. Because I work across the street from the Stata Center — which contains the Computer Science and Artificial Laboratory (CSAIL) and Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — I come across the building several times a day. It’s an easy building to shoot in that it lends itself to photography, and I’m constantly bumping into people taking a photo of it. However, it’s difficult to make a unique image of the building that stands out from the plethora of photos online.
There is a burgeoning interest in neuroscience in popular culture. Researchers play an integral part in culture but the public knows very little about how science is done, who actually does it or exactly why it’s important. One consequence of opaque scientific work is the inability to see which individuals are conducting their research, their personal stories, and their motivations to help reveal the complexity of the nature we are imbued by.
These images were captured with a compact large format camera using experimental New55 PN instant film. The opaqueness of the positive (left) represents the raw data collected by scientists on their quest to understand nature. The inverted negative (right) represents how scientists reveal nature through filtering data, beautifying imagery, and at times removing unwanted, but captured information.
All scientists and equipment are part of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The front façade of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Course 9 refers to the name of the major (i.e., neuroscience). The late Charles Correa was the lead designer for the building.
A reading room flooded with natural light for chance encounters to exchange ideas and for scientist to have a drink during weekly summer lab socials.
Scientists mingle in the atrium after lectures from visiting professors. However, the venue is clear of people as scientists conduct their research.
To and Through
A glass roof covers the atrium in one of the world’s largest neuroscience research facilities, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
An empty seminar room where visiting professors come to give the latest updates on their research. It’s been said before that presenting at MIT is akin to a lion’s den.
Stephen Allsop received his PhD at MIT and will soon continue is medical training at Harvard Medical School. Allsop was born in Brooklyn, NY, and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago before moving to Cambridge to study the brain circuitry of social cognition. His work focuses on how animals learn by observing other animals learning a task. Allsop’s findings suggests that there are encoded circuits in the brain to learn by observing others, which may play a fundamental role in understanding the feelings of others. In addition to pursuing a medical degree and PhD Allsop is an accomplished jazz musician.
Caitlin Vander Weele comes from a small German tourist town, Frankenmuth, Michigan where it is Christmas year around. She is currently a PhD candidate and interested in what projection-defined circuits in the prefrontal cortex encode information about positive and negative events. Her research has led to finding brain regions that play a crucial role in generating feelings of isolation. Vander Weele recently launched a magazine that blends both science and art called Inerstellate.
Nancy Padilla was born and raised in Puerto Rico and attended music school where she specialized in piano and cello. She became interested in how the brain allows one to experience music emotionally and in recalling memories. Ultimately, Padillla obtained her PhD in neuroscience from Columbia University and is now a postdoctoral associate studying the role of the hormone estrogen on the brain circuitry that underlies anxiety behaviors. Paddilla is interested in how innate behaviors are encoded in the brain.
Autumn Arons grew up in Montgomery, New York, and attended Union College. She currently studies the mechanisms involved in eating disorders. She is motivated in how living a healthy lifestyle can assist in disease prevention. Arons finds it fascinating how people's bodies can react so differently to diet and exercise and how the central nervous system plays a part in that.
Rodrigo Garcia was born in Boaco Nicaragua, but moved to the United States due to the civil and political unrest that resulted from the Iran-contra affair. Garcia is now a postdoctoral associate and studies astrocytes -- one of a type of non-neuronal cells called glia that make up about half all cells in the human brain. Garcia is investigating how astrocytes contribute to information processing in the visual cortex.
Rachel Cuozzo is a recent MIT alumna from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Cuozzo, Born in New York, grew up South Florida. She currently works in Professor Matthew WIlson's lab studying the parabrachial nucleus (PBN) of the brain stem. The PBN is a brain structure crucial for maintaining consciousness. She became interested in neuroscience in high-school after being enamored by anatomy and beauty of the human body.
Francisco Flores grew up Combarbalá, Chile. Flores studies the effects of commonly used anesthetic drugs on the thalamocortical system during loss and recovery of consciousness. Francisco became interested in chemistry, in part, from his time learning how to develop photographs with his father, an accomplished photographer.
Anna Beyeler is from the town of Tourliac, France. After studying the spinal cord at the University of Bordeaux, where she received her PhD, she switched her focus to studying the neural circuitry of the hippocampus. Anna is now researching the amygdala -- a brain region that’s important for infusing positive or negative emotions into experiences -- known as valence. Her work can help in understanding mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. She will soon lead her own lab in Boudreaux.
Shruti Muralidhar is from India. She finished her PhD at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. From Switzerland she began postdoctoral research at the University of Utah. Muralidharis is now starting her postdoctoral position in the nobel prize winning lab of Susumu Tonegawa at MIT.
Tomás Ryan is from a small market town called Dungarvan in Country Waterford, Ireland. He completed his undergraduate degree at Trinity College Dublin and moved to the University of Cambridge in the UK for his PhD before coming to MIT to study memory and amnesia. Ryan’s findings show that amnesia is not about losing memories, but rather about the inability to access seemingly lost memories.
Stereotaxic Setup in Faraday Cage
The microscope shown here is used to perform surgeries that allow neuroscientists to use laser light to turn on and off subset of brain networks. The aforementioned technique is called optogenetics
A microscope is used to manually construct a microdrive hyper-array, which contains dozens of electrodes that record from potentially hundreds of neurons. This tool is used to record the rhythms of the brain and individual firing patterns of neurons to record the dreams of rodents. Such data allows neuroscientists to better understand how the brain remembers as an animal learns a maze.
A microscope to study the function of astrocytes, one of a type of non-neuronal cells called glia that make up about half all cells in the human brain. This machine is used to investigate how astrocytes contribute to information processing in the visual cortex.
This is a sophisticated physiology rig designed to turn on or off very specific subcircuits in the brain. Neuroscientists can identify the neural circuitry that underlies how the brain bridges two independent events in time, that is, associative learning
A classic lab bench, messy from experimentation, filled to the brim with solutions, salts, and sometimes neurotoxins.
Using the circular frame I telescope back in time to reconcile distinct representations of past and present self. The images in this series are of people that I held close relationships with and spans from 2004 through 2014. These portraits were captured during struggles of early adulthood, to moments of love, wonder, and isolation. As I encroach middle age I find myself questioning the accuracy of my memories and how this ultimately impacts how I view my identity.
As a neuroscientist I am keenly aware that memories are inaccurate and are at best based on a true story. In fact, whenever a memory is recalled it is changed. Brain regions become re-activated when a powerful cue of a past event is presented. Cues can be the smell of a loved ones t-shirt, a melancholy song, a picture of a childhood friend. Reactivated brain regions become susceptible to change for a period of time, allowing new information or feelings to be inserted and integrated into our past experiences or potentially peeled away from psychological access. I use the pictures in this series as a form of therapy to cognitively restructure how I view and accept the narrative of my life.
Individual histories are filled with blind spots and our brains fool us into thinking that our reality is seamless. Sometimes we resist the process of connecting who we are and who we were and this is problematic because it often leads to psychopathologies like depression, anxiety, and emotional detachment. Using imagery to ignite feelings that are difficult to address may provide therapeutic relief as we grow, age, and confront the trials and tribulations that are inherent to meaningful relationships.
The opposing forces of isolation and connectedness create an uncomfortable space that I often occupy. The images shown here represent that aforementioned space. In this series I aim to invoke feelings of familiarity and detachment through the use of seemingly universal images of spaces that could be just about anywhere or no place at all. My goal is to create an empathic connection between the audience and myself, drawing in the viewer while keeping them at an outside distance.
Photographing contexts functions to reveal an unconscious conversation between public spaces and myself. I wonder streets with the vague intent of finding contexts that exhibit strong colors, shadows, and negative space. I observe the environment from a distance, collecting data with minimal intrusion, to create a narrative about where I have been. Upon reflecting about my experiences of making these photographs (while curating) I work to make sense of common themes, such as anxiety, relationships, and loneliness. Photography is the language I use to expose emotions that I hope represents a collective unconscious of viewers.
The images shown here are all created on an iPhone, which is a wonder of the 21st century that is often used to represent an analogue aesthetic. As technology advances nostalgia come more to the forefront, which is exemplified by use of retro filter apps that pays homage to stylistically influential artists such as Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Edward Hopper, but repeating to excess the social sharing and instability of images a la the Polaroid camera. However, prints are tangible in a way that mobile images are not; the same way that connection with another person differs when mediated by a screen. Mobile devices are used to cope with our ever-increasing detachment from those physically near us as we attempt to feel connected in an authentic and meaningful way. Although the visual feeds of our phones are loud there is an increasing quietness brought about our peering into glowing rectangles. We seem to be enduring a quiet anxiety that fuels our avoidance of being alone together.
I photograph people from afar along our uneventful terrain and to escape this monotony I observe human actions. As a behavioral neuroscientist I seek to make my presence minimal. Whether with mice or humans, viewing from an ineffectual distance affords me safety in watching my subject’s natural state. I am disturbed that my primary connection to people is by scientific inquiry, which is perhaps schizoid in nature. My mobile camera serves as a data collection instrument, analytical tool, and social mediator. Ultimately my abstraction of other people’s behavior through the phone informs my composition, which brings to the foreground elements I unconsciously seek, that of an emotional response and feeling close to others. I collect, study, and curate my data with the goal of forming a narrative that I hope creates a cohesive story about the human species and our connectedness, albeit on through a plane of mediated networks. My photographs depict strong contrast, vivid colors, and darkened regions that extend across the paths where individuals navigate engrained routes. Order Prints Here
San José, California is the Capital of Silicon valley but it was once referred to as the Valley of the Hearts Delight. The later moniker speaks to the history of San José, which is that of an incredibly rich farming region. During the 1950s and ‘60s San José’s population grew nearly ten times in size, transforming farmland into high-tech firms.
Given San José’s contributions to inventing technologies that change culture, politics, and governments it is thought of as a place that invents the future. However, this area has very few markers of its young history. This series aims to capture this transitional period through architecture when San José underwent rapid urbanization.
To accentuate feelings of the past I use the frame of the film stocks. Advancements in digital photography are a direct repercussion of the technologies built in Silicon Valley. The image as a product was once captured in crystals and celluloid, now it primarily exists as representation of software code. The physicality of the film serves as a reminder of San José’s roots.
In this series I reflect upon the adaptive changes made by birds and humans 65 million years after the K/T mass extinction event. Birds are the only dinosaurs to have survived the K/T extinction, which opened an ecological niche for mammals and the eventual rise of humans. Both birds and mammal exhibited explosions in their diversity after the K/T event, in part, due to their intellectual capacity, adaptability, and problem solving skills.
Although a six miles wide asteroid impact and unprecedented volcanic activity precipitated the K/T event, humans are triggering the next and 6th great mass extinction. Over half of the world’s population now lives in cities creating immense ecological changes and landscape transformations, otherwise known as urbanization. Urbanization increases pollution, the temperature of densely populated areas, and alters the amount of rainfall in cities. Urbanization changes the behavior of birds as they adapt to human industrialization a phenomenon called synurbization, which ultimately leads to accelerated evolution of these animals.
Synurbization reduces bird migration during seasonal changes as cities provide the ability to survive winters. In effect, birds are becoming more sedentary paralleling the human condition. Birds navigate by several methods, which include orienting to the sun, the stars, earth’s magnetic fields and roads. Given light pollution at night and the noise emitted by electromagnetic radiation (e.g., cell phones, radio waves, Wi-Fi signals) cities critically impact on how birds orient, fly to their locations, and ultimately mate.
Birds and humans are species that perhaps benefited the most from the K/T extinction. Yet, it is precisely this prosperity of human evolution that is ushering in another great extinction event. This time around what species will benefit if we ultimately undermine our own survival? I aim to show how birds will interact with our urban environment in the absence of humans.