Racial justice through the prism of science, poetry and photography
Racial prejudice is well documented in photography. Consider, for example, the inability of photographers to capture and expose darker skin tones with film. In the film’s emulsion, the chemicals that recapitulate the light, are inherent social prejudices. There is a distinct prejudices within algorithms of our digital imaging technologies.
Mainstream media lack, or distort, colored people. From my own experiences, I am often the only dark-haired person, or person of color, in the room when I attend exhibition openings.
The protests over the past year in response to the murder of George Floyd and rampant anti-Asian hate crimes, along with my own struggles, have prompted something in me to be proactive.
As a result, I decided to apply for a city art exchange focusing on racial justice with my collaborator, Linsey Jayne. I’m a photographer and neuroscientist, and Linsey is a poet and editor. Our project, The poetry of science, offers people of color (POC) the opportunity to amplify their voice and be seen. Using poetry and photography to validate the realities of POC, we sought to counter the negative associations transmitted through systemic racism by creating new, positive associations between POC, the arts and the sciences.
This project paired local poets of color (based in Cambridge, MA) with local scientists of color to create poetry based on the work, motivations, and history of the scientists. The portraits of the scientists were created in collaboration with a local art photographer, Vanessa Leroy.
By combining the intensity of poetry with vivid imagery, our goal was to strengthen the voices and experiences of distinct communities of color to bridge the divide between the sciences and the humanities. By bringing together these voices and collaborative works, we hope to offer a new form of storytelling through POC’s experiences, emphasizing our place in the natural landscape and attempting to answer the question “Where do we stand?” “
Below are the visual representations of scientists as integral parts of the natural landscape, grounded in the very foundation of reality they study, observe, seek to understand, and create. Each image is accompanied by original poetry that highlights the awesome power of science and its unique role in the life of every scientist.
Daniel Burje Chonde, MD, Ph.D., radiology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, executive director of Peoples’ heART
Sheena Vasquez, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biology at MIT
Nandita Menon, MS, Technical Associate at MIT
Kathleen Esfahany, researcher in computational neuroscience and artificial intelligence at MIT
Christian Loyo, Ph.D. candidate in the biology department at MIT
Jason Samaroo, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biology at Boston University
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
About the Author: Joshua Sariñana, PhD, is a neuroscientist, photographer and director of The Poetry of Science. You can read his previous PetaPixel articles here and see his photographs on his site.
Image credits: Photographs courtesy of The Poetry of Science