In a unique collaboration, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, and Australian photographer Tamara Dean set out to “show our knowledge seekers in a different light, in their environment. Not in a way the public normally sees them and their work.” They had the ingenious idea to “help take our research out into the world” to showcase scientists working in the elements to address problems like climate change, endangered species, toxic industrial sites and marine pollution.
The result is a compelling photography series that presents a powerful challenge to the stereotype of nerdy researchers working in a lab coats. From studying heat stress on beach sand dunes in Sydney to combining seafaring with mathematical modeling, and from mathematical analysis of colossal fire tornadoes to subterranean sleuthing, the Wild Researchers exhibition transports viewers outside into the landscapes where researchers work. It gives a glimpse of scientists as they really are, in the real-world environments where they acquire data, collect samples and ponder scientific mysteries and discoveries.
“Imagination: it’s not the first word usually associated with research — with science itself — but it’s a vital one,” writes journalist and science writer Ashley Hay in an essay included in the exhibition catalog.
The exhibition’s 12 images showcase university researchers in the field. Most of the 17 researchers featured are working in scientific areas — from mathematics and astronomy to climate change and biotechnology — along with a landscape architect and a philosopher.
Dean’s body of work “powerfully explores the relationship humans have with the natural world,” and she discusses her inspiration for Wild Researchers and how the project brings together her two loves — nature and art making — in a four-minute video. The exhibition was developed and commissioned in 2014 as part of Dean’s UNSW Artist-in-Residency. Her multi-sensory art installation, Here and Now, premiered to critical acclaim at Studio One in February 2015, assisted by the University’s Creative Practice Lab.
The Australian Museum in Sydney is hosting Wild Researchers from November 4 through December 13, 2015. The exhibition also can be viewed on the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Web site at www.wildresearchers.unsw.edu.au.
“I am thrilled that journalist and author Ashley Hay took up our commission of an essay for the exhibition. Just as Tamara has so evocatively conjured up these images, Ashley has worked a different kind of magic. Her essay is a gorgeous meditation on photography, place and science and I commend it to you,” said Denise Knight, Director of Media at UNSW Australia.
Hay observes: “If I could have any piece of knowledge I would ask what these subjects thought about as they sat still — pinned, pressed — as Tamara Dean fixed these richly made images.” Her companion essay is titled “The Fieldwork of Looking and Seeing.”
The exhibit catalog can be downloaded at http://www.wildresearchers.unsw.edu.au/download