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Rewriting Life

Marking Time

Our Photo Contest Winners

Let those in love wax long and ardently about the gossamer quality of their emotional state. No less tantalizing or challenging is the task of describing the passage of time. As with love, many ways exist. Scientists and engineers who study time or deal with the evanescent stuff in the course of experiments express its passage in terms of numbers, equations, and curves on graphs. Artists use other media: musicians delineate time through notes and spaces; visual artists must seek out objects or scenes that convey the concept.

In this year’s Technology Review photo contest we challenged entrants to depict events evolving over time or to portray creative methods of recording changes over time. We wanted to show how artists interpret a scientific notion. Contestants responded with a plethora of images: crumbling edifices, smokestacks juxtaposed against modern antennae, bodies healing from injuries, even a woman pulling up stockings. The winning photographs hint at the breadth of ideas.

The judges included Peter Vandermark, assistant professor of photojournalism at Boston University, and Felice Frankel and George Whitesides, who are, respectively, artist-in-residence at MIT and professor of chemistry at Harvard University and coauthors of On the Surface of Things, a collection of photographs and essays to be published in October by Chronicle Books. We thank all three for their thoughtful deliberations-and time.

This story is part of our July 1997 Issue
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The first-place image, “A Moment in Time” by David Freese of Philadelphia, suggests “a beginning and end, a past and future,” remarked judge Vandermark. Freese evoked  scientific imagery related to time-perhaps rocket trails or lines on a graph-through the use of two pieces of piano wire that he suspended in space against a black backdrop. Frankel found the photo “unbelievably spare and almost perfectly composed.” Freese used a 4x5 camera and Kodak T-MAX 2100 film to produce the photo.

Todd Gieg of Boston wins second place for his image of the bedroom where he boarded at a private high school. The judges responded to the sense of timelessness in the image; the viewer has “no idea when this picture was taken,” commented Vandermark. Producing the image required the passage of time: Gieg used a Hasselblad camera outfitted with a Polaroid back and 665 film he had first aged by exposing it to light-free air for at least a month, a technique that changes highlights and the colors of shadows. He hung the photograph on a wall for half a year or so, then coated the image area, which had undergone more chemical changes, to stop the aging process. The surrounding area sustained further chemical alterations for at least a year. Gieg finally removed the original coating and sealed the entire photograph with varnish.

Third prize goes to Marie Triller of Albany, N.Y., for her series depicting people walking past a Calvin Klein advertisement in New York’s Times Square. The judges especially responded to Triller’s colorful composition of the characters she had photographed during what she calls “a tiny fragment of time.” Triller used a Nikon FA camera and Kodak 100 film.

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