Artistic Portraiture and Self Doubt / by Rachel Tine

My photo of MIT Professor Jeremy England, for OZY Media

My photo of MIT Professor Jeremy England, for OZY Media

Over the course of approximately 5 minutes one night last January, I received a voicemail message, a direct email, and an email through my website, all from a Silicone Valley media company wanting to book me for an artistic photoshoot with an MIT professor. Feeling a bit discouraged by the photography world at the time, I thought the request must be a joke, but after a few emails and a phone call, it became clear that the request was legit. When I asked the director of photography what he was looking for in the shoot, he replied "I'm hiring you for you; whatever you think looks good, I'm sure I'll love". At the time, this sentence was flattering, freeing, and terrifying all at the same time.

With only two days to plan the shoot, I immediately began to research the professor, Jeremy England. After watching videos of Professor England's lectures and reading articles about his theories, my mind was flooded with great ideas for our photoshoot. However, due to construction, weather, timing, etc., all of my original concepts had to be scrapped, and I went back to the drawing board.

Entropy was one of the concepts that kept arising in Professor England's work, especially in its relation to the formation of life, and I became determined to create a visual representation of entropy for this shoot. I had recently become acquainted with a local company, N-E-R-V-O-U-S System, that was creating one-of-a-kind 3D printed lights inspired by the way plants grow from seeds and that cast disorganized and seemingly random shadows.

Professor England was a great sport. I showed up at his office with 4 or 5 odd lamps and ushered him into the darkest room in the lab, closing the door and leaving us temporarily in complete darkness. I plugged the lamps in one by one and had him hold the lights while telling me about his theories, beliefs, etc. When I had taken a sufficient number of photos with the unique lamps, Professor England was kind enough to let me take some more basic shots of him, too, just in case.

When I was editing the photos, I became concerned as I realized how unorthodox the images were, but because the director of photography had hired me instead of the many Boston photographers who he had worked with previously, specifically due to the strength of my unique artistic portraiture, I submitted my shadow portraits.

As days passed without a response, my concern began to grow. When I did receive a response, I was afraid to read it, expecting negative feedback. It turned out, though, that everyone on the staff loved the photos, and they hired me for two other shoots that year, and also ran a piece on my abandonment work. I'm glad that I was able to at least partially trust my artistic instinct in the face of self doubt, and I am very thankful for the director of photography, Eustacio Humphrey, who recognized my unique artistic gifts and gave me an excuse to get out of a funk and follow my own lead.