Secrets of the narwhal tusk

first_imgTo Martin Nweeia, the narwhal — a mysterious whale with an off-center tusk — is much more interesting than the mythical unicorn.Now, eight years after he described the narwhal’s distinctive tusk as a sensory organ, the fascinating creature is coming into focus. Nweeia and his colleagues have mapped a sensory pathway between that spiral tooth and the narwhal brain, along the way showing how the animal may use its tusk to suss out its environment.A practicing dentist in Connecticut and a clinical instructor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry and Biomaterials Sciences at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM), Nweeia calls himself “just a curious kid” whose interest in dental anthropology — teeth in people across evolutionary history — spurred him to look at, for example, the elephant tusk and other variants of teeth in animals. But for more than a dozen years he has been chasing narwhals in their native habitat halfway between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole.The more Nweeia studied narwhals, the less sense they seemed to make.One spiral tooth projects through the upper lip, jutting nine feet out from only one side of the male’s head. It is a tooth, not an antler with the sex-based size differences well known in the animal kingdom.Another tooth remains embedded in the other side of the narwhal’s mouth, an asymmetry not found elsewhere in nature. Male narwhal embryos have eight pairs of teeth in their developing mouths, but only two pairs form after birth, with one pair forming the tusks. Usually only one of these teeth becomes the signature tusk.The world of narwhal research means expeditions to the northern tip of Baffin Island, where Nweeia perches on ice floes or at shore-based camps, dons a dry suit to wade in 36-degree water, braves 120-mph winds, and watches warily for polar bears. Early in his 14-year career of arduous expedition, Nweeia and colleagues discovered that the narwhal tusk is the structural inverse of a human tooth: It has a rigid rod in the center surrounded by a flexible outer layer that contains porous tubules.“These things all fly in the face of every rule and property that one would learn about teeth, if one were to go to dental school,” Nweeia said.In 2005 he and colleagues including Peter Hauschka, associate professor of developmental biology at HSDM and Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, reported at a conference that the narwhal tusk is a sensory organ, delivering information about its icy ocean environment. Now a paper, published in the journal Anatomical Record, traces the path from sensation to brain using anatomy, histology, genetics, and neurophysiology.Martin Nweeia (dark jacket) and his team used a Holter monitor to measure differences in the narwhal’s heart rate and found significant changes depending on water salinity. Photo by Isabelle GrocNweeia’s team found nerves, tissues, and genes in the narwhal tusk pulp that are known for sensory function and that help connect the tusk to the brain. Armed with this new model, Nweeia needed to confirm that sensory information is actually transmitted along this pathway to the brain from the tusk in living narwhals.The team tested this hypothesis by slipping a “tusk jacket” — a clear tube sealed with foam at either end — onto a narwhal that had swum into waters off Baffin, still chilly in August.The stimulus was water, either high or low in salt, which sloshed through the tube and over the tusk in separate tests. The response was a change in heart rate, measured by a Holter monitor, the same portable device that people wear when their doctors want to document heart rhythms. The team hooked electrodes onto the narwhals’ skin, took heart-rate measurements, and then released the animals unharmed after less than 30 minutes.The scientists measured changes in heart rate and found significant changes depending on water salinity.Why would varying water salinity matter? Ice formation is critical to the success of an animal species that lives in an ever-changing ocean environment, the researchers surmised. Nweeia has concluded that the narwhal tusk senses variations in the salinity of the ocean waters as a possible way to demonstrate fitness to females. Such ability may help males find females in estrus, or help locate foods essential for newly born narwhals.Water salinity was the sensory stimulus, which triggered signals to the brain and then sparked responsive changes in heart rate, Nweeia explained.“This is the first tooth that has been shown by in vivo testing to have sensory function to a normal variable in its environment,” he said.Nweeia pointed out that human teeth are sensitive, too, but as in other mammals, this has been documented only after significant damage or disease. Human teeth can sense cold or heat or pain, especially when exposed after damage to the hard outer layer.Dental textbooks feature the hydrodynamic theory of tooth sensitivity, credited to Martin Brännström, which holds that changes in fluid inside tubules within the dentin layer cause variations in pressure that reach nerves in the tooth pulp. Brännström hypothesized that teeth are capable of detecting temperature, pressure, particle gradients, and tactile sensations.The next steps for Nweeia’s group, Narwhal Tusk Discoveries, are to complete a 12-year study collecting traditional Inuit knowledge of the narwhal and to find an evolutionary link to the tusk’s microstructure.“Imagine: Exploration, wonder, and mystery are all wound up in this magnificent spiraled tusk and sensory organ,” said Nweeia.This study was funded by National Science Foundation grants. Additional funding was made by the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, the Smithsonian Institution, the Explorers Club, Castle Harlan, NSERC, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.last_img read more

‘Binge-watching’ TV not good for the waistline

first_imgSitting glued to the TV for hours at a time – or “binge-watching” – appears to encourage overeating and obesity, according to Lilian Cheung, lecturer and director of health promotion and communication for the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and author of “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.”“There’s convincing evidence in adults that the more television they watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese,” Cheung said in a December 31, 2015 NPR’s The Salt article. What’s more, she said, TV viewing can promote poor eating choices due to frequent exposure to advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages.To better control of food intake, she suggested practicing mindful eating. “When eating, only eat. Turn off the television [and] computer, and put the cellphone away to refrain from checking messages. By removing these distractions, you can bring your full attention to the food in front of you, going beyond just taste and engaging all senses — including sight, smell, texture and the sound your food makes.” Read Full Storylast_img read more

Colson Whitehead, literary chameleon

first_imgColson Whitehead ’91 has gained a reputation as a literary chameleon, deftly blurring the lines between literary and genre fiction, and using his uncanny abilities to inhabit and reinvent conventional frames in order to explore the themes of race, technology, history, and popular culture that continually resurface in his work. In a country where reading habits and reading publics are still more segregated than we often care to admit, his books enjoy a rare crossover appeal. His first novel, “The Intuitionist,” is a detective story that regularly turns up in college courses; the zombie thriller “Zone One” drew praise from literary critics and genre fiction fans alike; “Sag Harbor,” about black privileged kids coming of age in the 1980s, was a surprise bestseller. In an era when commercial pressure reinforces the writerly instinct to cultivate a recognizable “voice,” his astonishingly varied output, coupled with highly polished, virtuosic prose, makes Whitehead one of the most ambitious and unpredictable authors working today.Beyond the books, Whitehead swims effortlessly in the hyper-connected moment: he maintains an active presence on Twitter, where his sly and dyspeptic observations on the curious and the mundane have gained him a devoted following. A sampling includes sagacious tips for the aspiring writer—“Epigraphs are always better than what follows. Pick crappy epigraphs so you don’t look bad”—and riffs on Ezra Pound: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet, black bough / Probably hasn’t been gentrified though.” In the pages of The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, he has wryly dissected contemporary mores and the light-speed metamorphoses of language in the age of social media. In a widely shared essay from last year, he parsed the current attachment to the “tautophrase,” as in “you do you” and “it is what it is.” Or Taylor Swift’s popularization of “Haters gonna hate.” Swift makes an easy target, of course, but Whitehead takes aim at the rhetoric of those in power too, and the narcissism in our culture more generally. He’s more gadfly than moralist, but there is a Voltaire-like venom to his sarcasms. “The modern tautophrase empowers the individual,” he observes, “regardless of how shallow that individual is.” Read Full Storylast_img read more

Harvard Institute of Politics announces fall fellows

first_imgFormer Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel joins the 2016 class as a visiting fellowCambridge, Mass. – Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, today announced the selection of the 2016 IOP fall resident and visiting fellows.“We have an extraordinary class of Fellows. They are the perfect guides to lead our students through the fascinating terrain of this election year,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams. The fellows program is central to the Institute’s dual commitment to encourage student interest in public life and to increase interaction between the academic and political communities. Over the course of an academic semester, resident fellows interact with students, develop and lead weekly study groups and participate in the intellectual life of the Harvard community. Visiting fellows join the Institute for a shorter period and maximize their time meeting with students, faculty and Harvard research center staff.The full list of fellows and their biographies can be found at the link below. Read Full Storylast_img read more

Good heart health can help your brain, too

first_imgBlood vessel problems such as fatty plaque buildup in arteries or stiffening of the arteries are well-known contributors to heart disease—but they can damage brain function as well. That means that keeping your heart healthy will also help keep your cognitive abilities sharp.“An estimated one-third of all cases of dementia, including those identified as Alzheimer’s, can be attributed to vascular factors,” said Albert Hofman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a Nov. 9, 2016 Harvard Health Blog post.Tiny blockages in the brain’s small vessels can lead to subtle, “silent” strokes. Blood clots in major arteries can lead to an overt stroke, in which large portions of brain tissue die. Both types of stroke can lead to dementia.Reducing your cardiovascular risks by getting regular physical activity, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight are all key to keeping your heart healthy—and your brain too. It’s also important to keep high blood pressure, the leading cause of stroke, in check. Read Full Storylast_img read more

Life stories keep him turning (and sniffing) the page

first_imgThis article is part of a series on the impact of humanities studies in and out of the classroom.There has rarely been a decisive moment in Luke Kelly’s life that hasn’t involved a book.Kelly ’19 was homeschooled for most of his childhood in Pascagula, Miss., which included constant reading, from “Aesop’s Fables” to the short stories of Eudora Welty. He also studied piano, helped by a teacher whose worldliness and charisma still speak to Kelly from the (stolen) page.“That piece of sheet music I ‘permanently borrowed’ was the first book I consciously collected,” he said. “I collected it not to practice with, but to remember all that I learned from someone I so greatly wanted to imitate. If you open it up, you can still smell that house.”His study of “Schofield’s Definition of Discipline” during his brief time at West Point helped Kelly realize that military training wasn’t the type of education he wanted. When he landed at Harvard already in possession of what would later be honored as an exceptional book collection, he knew he had found the right place.“Harry Widener is my patron saint,” said Kelly, a history concentrator. “He lived this young life, died too early, and all people know him for is the library. But looking at his books and what he valued, I feel like I know him better than most people do because I see his passions. You miss the whole point if you just see he had a Gutenberg Bible. I know what kind of pipe tobacco he owned.”Such attention to detail reflects Kelly’s drive for connecting with the life behind a book, a passion his job at Houghton Library has rewarded and deepened.“I’d work there for free,” he said. “I’m interested in people’s biographies, memoirs, and sometimes people didn’t leave those behind … sometimes you get that sense of what they valued and excited them through the objects they left behind.“I’ve pored over Widener’s copy of ‘The Pickwick Papers,’ and it reeks of Latakia pipe tobacco. No one would know that unless you were holding it and sniffing it. Every day I’m there I find out something new.”Library assistant Joseph Zajac, Kelly’s supervisor at Houghton, recognizes a “genuine book lover and expert” in the Dunster House resident.“He’s a perfect learner, has a huge knowledge about books, and has excellent memory,” Zajac said. “I had a very similar enthusiasm when I was his age.”While in high school, Kelly began collecting books by the Alabama author and poet Eugene Walter, starting with “The Untidy Pilgrim” (1954).“It was the first first-edition book of his I bought, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him,” Kelly said. “I then went on a mission to find everything he’d ever written.”The Walter collection earned Kelly the Harvard Library 2016 Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting. Next came a win in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, which helped Kelly gain entry into the exclusive Grolier Club, a New York-based collecting society, as its youngest member.“I didn’t expect to get into it until I’m 65 years old,” said Kelly. “I’ve accomplished half my life goals.”Kelly also proudly belongs to the John Adams Society, a conservative-leaning club for debate of politics and moral philosophy.“There are monarchists, Hamiltonians — it’s not an echo chamber,” he said. “We have intellectual discussion that is informal and formal at the same time. We argue about the rules as much as the debate resolutions.”In both the John Adams Society and at Houghton, Kelly has found ways to connect the past with the present. That’s no less the case in one of his favorite fall courses, “History of the Book and of Reading,” where he’s found a like-minded professor in Ann Blair.“It’s usually a very moving experience for students to handle a book that is hundreds of years old, as we can in our wonderful Houghton Library,” said Blair. “Luke has the love of books written all over him, and he’s a very committed member of that community. I’m delighted that he will surely carry forward the love and knowledge of books.”last_img read more

Waiting for the pendulum to swing back won’t cut it

first_imgUnderstandably, left-leaning citizens across the world may feel like they’re on the defensive, with things likely to get worse before they get any better. Michael Kazin, professor of U.S. Social Movements and Politics at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent Magazine, sat down with the Gazette ahead of his Dean’s Lecture in the Social Sciences at the Radcliffe Institute, “Does the Left Have a Future?” to discuss why the left is struggling and how it can rebuild itself.GAZETTE: For the anxious and short-on-time proletariat, does the left have a future?KAZIN: The answer is “Yes, but …” I say yes because the kind of things the left stands for — both liberal and radical — are still very popular. Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America right now. Jeremy Corbin is doing very well in Britain. I think in general, most citizens of the world want a lot of things the left has always controlled: equality, decent housing, good education, good medical care, and so forth.The “but,” of course, is that left organizations have not been winning elections as of late; institutions that used to be bold to the left, such as unions, are not doing very well anywhere in the industrialized world; and there’s a lot of skepticism about how to achieve the things they’re talking about.There are, I think, three paths for the left that I lay out in the talk: continue the tradition of being a social gadfly, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the labor rights movement; take a more Social Democratic path, the type that Bernie Sanders is talking about that we see in many Scandinavian countries; or take a hard turn into a Democratic Socialist society, the sort of system that Marx and Engels wrote about, in which there would be a very limited role for private capital.GAZETTE: Is the left at a historic low or is this a more predictable pendulum swing?KAZIN: There have been other times when the left has not been doing well: the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s. I’m not sure it’s a historic low right now. I think left-wing parties are doing worse than they have — across the world — at pretty much anytime since they began in the late 19th century. But left ideas are still vital.GAZETTE: What happened to put the left in such a tough spot?KAZIN: The core of the left, historically, was the working class, particularly the native working class, which, in this country, is the white working class. And that group is turning much more toward conservative parties, right-wing populism, especially towards figure like [President] Trump and others who follow him. So when you lose what used to be the core of your constituency and the organizations like unions that represented that constituency, then you’re in trouble.The left has also gotten the image of being represented more by people at Harvard and Hollywood than by ordinary people in the heartland. The French have a term for this, le gauche caviar (the caviar left). We don’t have the same thing here in the U.S., but “limousine liberal” was an older phrase for people even to the left of liberals. But if you’re trying to win over the majority of people, most of whom don’t go to college, never mind Harvard, that’s a problem. The idea that the left is elite is a problem.Also — and this is more true of Europe, but it also applies to the Democrats — governments and parties got blamed for cooperating in what some people call neo-liberal policies, which is not a term I like a lot. All sorts of austerity, cutting back on government expenditures in order to keep up with Euro guidelines. In this country, Obama did not really try to put bankers in jail for the housing crisis, he didn’t really push to expand union rights — not that he would’ve been successful. So these parties all over the Western world were seen as being more interested in the interests of global capital than in those of ordinary people.GAZETTE: Is Donald Trump helping the left?KAZIN: Good question. Something I didn’t expect is to have a Republican president come into office and see the left actually gaining. Usually they’d be on the defensive just trying to protect their gains. And that’s certainly true of course, Democrats are trying to protect Obamacare and the Consumer Protection Agency.But Trump is a different kind of Republican. He’s divided his party and his popularity ratings are down in the 30s, which has given people on the left some hope. But at the same time, for the left to really advance, they have to put forward their own program. I don’t think most Americans know what the left would do if it were in power, and that’s a problem.GAZETTE: What does the left need to do to compete again?KAZIN: A lot of things. They have to diagnose the problem first of all, but I end the talk with three suggestions:First is they need to build institutions and be part of institutions, and that applies especially to political institutions. The left has to be part of the Democratic party. Unions are in decline but they can still be institutions to help and to educate people who would otherwise be educated by conservatives like Trump and evangelical churches. They have to build institutions at the local and state levels, not just the national, and not just insurgencies like Black Lives Matter and Occupy.Second, leftists have to understand they need liberals as much as liberals need leftists. There’s an important symbiotic relationship there. They’ll disagree and fight a lot, but in American history, especially, leftists have never achieved anything they really wanted to without liberals. It was true in the 1890s, it was true in the 1930s, it was true in the 1960s, and it was true to a certain degree during the Obama administration.And third, leftists have to be more empathetic. There are a lot of people on the left who curse people who voted for Trump as racists, nativists, loonies. I think Trump is an awful person and has awful policies and is dangerous in lots of ways, but if leftists talk about people who voted for him or are ambivalent about him as, in effect, the enemy — as Hillary Clinton called them, “deplorables” — they’re not going to win the majority of people in America. You have to think about why people don’t agree with you and talk to them at the level they understand. And if you don’t, then you don’t really believe in a majoritarian left.GAZETTE: Can any of that happen in time for 2018 or 2020?KAZIN: People can start thinking and acting differently, I suppose. A lot of what I’m talking about are not original ideas, but if people on the left start committing themselves to some [of] this logic, they’ll be a lot better off going forward. Whether that happens right away or not, I don’t know. This is not just about elections, but about building movements which can influence elections, policy, and culture generally.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.Today’s event is already at capacity, however, Radcliffe will add your name to its wait list and will inform you as soon as possible if space becomes available. Please e-mail [email protected] to be added to the wait list.last_img read more

Sunstein wins Holberg Prize

first_imgBERGEN, Norway — Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein has been named this year’s winner of the Holberg Prize, one of the largest international awards given to an outstanding researcher in the arts and humanities, the social sciences, law, or theology.Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, is being given the prize for his wide-ranging, original, prolific, and influential research. Not only has his research redefined several academic fields, but it has had far-reaching impact on public policy. His scholarship spans behavioral economics and public policy, constitutional law and democratic theory, legal theory and jurisprudence, administrative law, and the regulation of risk.In particular, Sunstein’s academic work has reshaped understanding of the relationship between the modern regulatory state and constitutional law. He is widely regarded as the leading scholar of administrative law in the United States, and is by far the most cited legal scholar in the country.For four decades, Sunstein has combined his scholarly contributions with a range of public activities and participation in open debate. He has influenced thinking on some of the most pressing issues of the time, from climate change and free speech to health issues.He will receive the award of $765,000 during a formal ceremony at the University of Bergen, Norway, on June 6.Describing the key purpose of his work, Sunstein said, “I have long been concerned with how to promote enduring constitutional ideals — freedom, dignity, equality, self-government, the rule of law — under contemporary circumstances, which include large bureaucracies that sometimes promote, and sometimes threaten, those ideals.“The main goal has been to deepen the foundations of democratic theory for the modern era, and to understand in practical terms how democracies might succeed in helping to make people’s lives better — and longer.”Sunstein has published 48 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. The books “After the Rights Revolution” (1990) and “The Partial Constitution” (1993) are considered his major works on American constitutional law, and explore how related ideals can be reworked and defended in the face of the challenges posed by the rise of the administrative state. “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide” (2018) emphasizes the importance of self-government and of human dignity, linking those to republican ideals and the power of impeachment.In “The Cost-Benefit State” (2002), “Risk and Reason” (2002), “The Laws of Fear” (2005), and “The Cost- Benefit Revolution” (forthcoming in 2018), he shows the ways in which cost-benefit analyses may discipline regulatory agencies. These works seek to bridge the gaps between deliberative ideals, distributive justice, human rights, and the demands of efficiency. “Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict” (1996; second edition 2018) is his most ambitious work on jurisprudence, the rule of law, and legal theory, emphasizing how law often reflects “incompletely theorized agreements,” which enable people to live together despite disagreement or uncertainty about the most fundamental questions.Sunstein won the Goldsmith Book Prize for “Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech” (1993), in which he argued the need to reformulate U.S. First Amendment law. The book says that it is necessary to move away from the conception of free speech as a marketplace, in order to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention to public issues and greater diversity of views.”His work on self-government, free speech, and modern technologies, culminating in “#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media” (2017), explores the problem of echo chambers and social polarization. It argues for the importance of common spaces and unchosen, serendipitous encounters with problems and ideas.In 1998, Sunstein broke new ground, together with Richard Thaler and Christine Jolls, with the paper “A Behavioral Approach to Law and Economics,” which initiated an academic field called behavioral law and economics. Sunstein and Thaler followed up with the best-selling book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness” in 2008. The book discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives, and it helped popularize and cement the influence of behavioral law and economics.“The Ethics of Influence” (2016) investigates ethical constraints on the uses of behavioral science, with reference to ideals of autonomy and welfare. Another forthcoming book, “Unleashed: Behavioral Economics in the Wild” (2019), will argue that private preferences are constrained by social norms, and that when such constraints begin to lift, social change can be quite rapid — for better or for worse.“Cass Sunstein’s work is animated by a profound sense of the ways in which human behavior poses a challenge for regulation,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, chair of the Holberg Committee. “Moreover, in addition to his contribution to the academic field, he has also mastered the art of communicating difficult and important ideas to the public. His work is rigorous yet accessible, and marked by an extraordinary concern for human welfare as well as a commitment to an enlightened public discourse. Sunstein is one of the great intellectuals of our time.”Sunstein earned his J.D. magna cum laude in 1978 from Harvard Law School, where he was executive editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. From 1980‒1981 he was an attorney-adviser at the U.S. Justice Department, before becoming an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School (1981–1983), where he also became an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science (1983–1985). Sunstein became full professor in both political science and law in 1985, and in 1988 he was named the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence in the Law School and Department of Political Science.In 2008, he joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as the director of its program on risk regulation. From 2009 to 2012, Sunstein was administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He returned to Harvard in 2012 as Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law until 2013, when he became Robert Walmsley University Professor. He is founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy.Sunstein was elected a member of American Law Institute in 1990 and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992. In 2017, he was elected corresponding fellow of the British Academy. He has won the Regulatory Innovation Award (Burton Foundation, 2012), the Henderson Prize (Harvard Law School, 2002), the Certificate of Merit Award of American Bar Association (1991), and the Award of American Bar Association for best scholarship in administrative law (1978, 1989, 1999). He has honorary doctorates from Copenhagen Business School and Erasmus University.Sunstein’s government service includes membership on President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (2013) and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Innovation Board (2016‒2017). He has also served on several committees, including the Institute of Medicine Committee (2004‒2005) and the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Public Service Obligations of Digital Television (1997‒1998).With George Akerlof and Adam Oliver, he is co-founder and co-editor of Behavioural Public Policy. In addition, he has contributed to constitution-making and law-reform activities in many countries. Sunstein has been on the boards of editors for Studies in American Political Development, the Journal of Political Philosophy, and Constitutional Political Economy. He has also been a contributing editor to The American Prospect and The New Republic.The Norwegian Parliament established the Holberg Prize in 2003. Previous laureates include Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard’s John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities.last_img read more

The proof is in the print

first_imgOver the past several years, Harvard Art Museums has acquired hundreds of printer’s proofs of work by celebrated artists, photojournalists, and fashion photographers, in a boon for Harvard holdings of contemporary art. Some of that rich collection is now on display.“Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981–2001” features approximately 90 black-and-white images from the Manhattan lab of Gary Schneider, an artist, photographer, and master printer, and John Erdman, an artist and expert retoucher.On view through Aug. 12, the exhibit explores the dynamic exchange between artist and printer, the methods and materials used in printmaking, and the social forces that helped shape New York and the nation in the 1980s and ’90s. (The lab closed in 2001.)“For me that range is what really makes the collection significant,” said the show’s curator, Jennifer Quick, Harvard’s John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Associate Research Curator in Photography. “It’s the granular, material history of photography, and the big broader social histories that it documents.”,One of the most haunting images on display is a photograph printed for the American artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz, who died from the disease in 1992 at the age of 37. For many, Wojnarowicz’s shot of buffalo plunging off a cliff — a picture of a diorama he snapped at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington — reflected not just the horror of the AIDS crisis but also the nation’s early apathy toward victims of the disease. The band U2 used the picture as cover art for the single “One,” donating sales to AIDS research.In an interview, Schneider, a filmmaker and photographer by training, said that the choice of a “very bright” French paper called Brilliant helped render Wojnarowicz’s image “holographic.”Becoming a printer was a natural progression for Schneider, who took a job in a photo lab to help him get through grad school at the Pratt Institute in the late 1970s and soon fell in love with darkroom work. Later, at the urging of a friend, he and Erdman, his partner, began printing works for other artists in their apartment in St. Mark’s Place. The spare bedroom doubled as a darkroom; the living room quickly filled with racks of drying prints. Eventually they moved to a studio in Cooper Square. “Even when I am dealing with a student, it’s their voice that I am looking to reveal to them. With an artist, it’s their desire that I’m searching for.” — Gary Schneider,Erdman managed the books, but as the business grew, he also developed into a skilled retoucher. The shop became a regular stop for a who’s who of the East Village art scene. Famed portrait photographer Richard Avedon enlisted Schneider and Erdman to print a set of Beatles images. Madonna sought their expertise for her “Sex” coffee table book, a project that involved nondisclosure agreements and a range of creative voices. Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Lisette Model, and James Casebere, among many other noted artists, were regulars.,Through the years, Schneider’s own gift with the camera helped inform how he translated an artist’s negative to a finished print. He likened his work to a kind of performance in which he channeled the ideas of others, using his experience and creative eye to develop options for clients whom he insisted arrive prepared.“If they didn’t have a vision for the work I wasn’t going to create one for them,” he said. “I couldn’t.”What he could do was deliver “a number of choices or alternatives,” by selecting the right combinations of paper, ink, toner, and developer, and by deciding how long to expose a work to enhance shadows or highlights.“Even when I am dealing with a student, it’s their voice that I am looking to reveal to them,” said Schneider. “With an artist, it’s their desire that I’m searching for.”The printing process is about “how far can I actually catalyze that artist’s voice or that artist’s desire rather than my own,” he said.,Archival material, books, and an Irene Bayer photo from Schneider and Erdman’s personal collection are part of the exhibit, along with key darkroom items such as test prints, a light valve technology negative, and “masks” — material used to cover an area of a print to limit its exposure time. All help shine a light on Schneider and Erdman’s process.Ensuring the collection would be housed at an institution devoted to teaching and learning was key for the pair, who led various demonstrations and discussions with Harvard students in the months before the exhibition.“We always viewed the collection as a study collection,” said Erdman, who accompanied Schneider to Harvard in 2004 for the installation of “Gary Schneider: Portraits.”It was during that visit that they were struck by the Fogg Art Museum’s Agnes Mongan Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and its commitment to teaching. “We fantasized about [our collection] coming here,” said Erdman.last_img read more

Drive behind pursuing concurrent degrees

first_img“I wanted to explore issues beyond the boundaries of health and health care,” says Elorm Avakame, M.P.P./M.D. ’18.Avakame chose to pursue a concurrent M.P.P./M.D. degree at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Harvard Medical School because “in Medical School, we are all training to be doctors, but here at the Kennedy School, people are training for so many different walks of life,” he said. “From anti-poverty policy to transportation and criminal justice, the Kennedy School has been a fertile environment for this exploration.“At HKS, I’ve had the opportunity to take courses in areas I’ve never studied before, such as safety net policy and behavioral economics.”During his time at HKS, Avakame was a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership. “This fellowship has been what I had hoped it would be: a group of like-minded peers working on the issues I’m passionate about. It’s been really great to be around a group of smart, passionate African-American students who share not only my identity but also my aspirations and sense of obligation to our community.”It’s an obligation Avakame doesn’t take lightly.“My story is the story of what it means to have a community to lean on,” he says. “My parents were immigrants from rural Ghana, and now my dad is a tenured professor at Rutgers and my mom is a certified public accountant.”The family’s journey began when Avakame’s father, a subsistence farmer in his home country, went off to university with just two pairs of pants and one bar of soap. He later earned a scholarship to study in Canada for his Ph.D. but didn’t have the funds for the plane ride from West Africa. His family and community pooled their money so he could pursue his dream. “I don’t think about my work as creating solutions to other people’s problems. Instead, I think of empowering people to solve their own problems.” — Elorm Avakame, M.P.P./M.D. ’18 “My parents taught me and my brother that we are who we are not just because of our own efforts but because of the people who invested in us,” he says. “And the only way to pay these people back is to pay it forward. We owe it to them to invest in others.”Avakame wants to invest in underserved communities, particularly in black children.“I know that black children have worse outcomes across so many measures of health,” he says. “Beyond that, as a black person in America, I understand that the opportunities I have were won for me by the black people who came before me. Black people were once murdered for assembling to learn to read; they have died fighting for the right to earn an education and to vote. I am obligated to continue fighting for a better life for my people.”Racism is a fundamental public problem that, he says, should be more central to the curriculum at Harvard Kennedy School. While he is grateful to his black professors whose courses addressed racism as a deep-seated challenge affecting people’s health, well-being, and prosperity, he says the School must add to their ranks. Similarly, he is thankful for his fellow black students but says, “There aren’t enough of us to bear the burden of everything from the Journal of African American Public Policy to the Black Policy Conference. If the Kennedy School wants these things to continue, we need more African-American students to come.”As he prepares to move to Washington, D.C., to begin a residency program in pediatrics at Children’s National Medical Center, Avakame says, “I don’t think about my work as creating solutions to other people’s problems. Instead, I think of empowering people to solve their own problems. It’s very easy to go into communities and impose what we think is the right answer. Over and over again at the Kennedy School, I’ve been reminded that public leadership is public service, and that this notion of service means assuming a position of humility relative to the people you’re trying to serve.“It’s clear to me that what makes people sick and unhealthy are things that happen far before they get to a doctor’s office,” he says.With his degrees from Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Medical School, Avakame is poised to influence the upstream factors that cause ill health among at-risk populations.This article was originally published on Harvard Kennedy School’s Student Life web page in May. It has been lightly edited.last_img read more