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Visualizing Social Science Image 7
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Visualizing Social Science (Image 7)

May 10, 2012
"Guatemalan Weaving." This image was taken by photographer Rachel Tanur and was included in an exhibit of her work titled "Visualizing Social Science," that was shown at the National Science Foundation (NSF) headquarters in Arlington, Va., July thru October 2006, as part of The Art of Science Project. The Art of Science Project was conceived and implemented by a cross-directorate committee of NSF staff. Its purpose is to bring to NSF, original works of art that visually explore the connections between artistic and scientific expression. The following excerpt, written by Patrick Moynihan and Laura Johnson, accompanied this photograph at the exhibit: "Guatemalan Weaving" evokes an earlier, almost romantic, era of weaving and work, one that predates that typically associated with the production of textiles: The cacophony of the industrial age with its clattering looms, cast-iron flywheels and nimble fingers of artisans tying and retying broken threads among the thousands draped across the machinery. As the textile industry now fades from the American industrial scene with much of the nation's nondurable manufacturing base--and those work sites that remain being computerized spaces with power looms of air and water jets moving shuttles back and forth based on electronic design inputs--the legacy of this form of work and expression becomes increasingly invisible to us. "Guatemalan Weaving" confronts our modern understandings of manufacturing with a weaver using a simple backstrap loom (typically tied to a tree and wrapped around the individual for stability) with lee sticks (used to separate layers of fabric to keep patterns discernable during production)--a traditional form of craft production with designs usually passed from one generation to the next. Far from the more perfect textiles computerized looms produce today (which must meet a variety of industry codes and price points to remain competitive), the patterns of cloth woven on a backstrap loom can be understood as representing the values and practices of everyday life within a community--with any technical mistakes a sign of authenticity in the work process and the worker's own individual charm. Just over the gentle sound of weft threads being passed with a wooden shuttle, "Guatemalan Weaving" whispers to us the meaning work can have in the life of an individual and community through the sheer beauty and power of weaving textiles. (Date of Image: 1998) [One of seven related images. See Next Image.] More about this Image During her short lifetime (1958-2002), Rachel Tanur traveled widely in the U.S., China, Africa, Europe and Latin America, taking photographs that reflected not only her artistic flair and her training in architecture and urban design, but also her concern with people and their interactions. Her photographs in the show "Visualizing Social Science" are accompanied by commentaries by social scientists from around the world. Many of the photos and commentaries reflect globalization and the resulting juxtaposition of traditional and modern artifacts and customs, often with ironic results. Others illustrate aspects of work--its ubiquity, its gender segregation and its involvement of children. Many of the contributing female social scientists are struck, as was Rachel, with the beauty and incongruity of the public display of laundry hung out to dry; they layer fascination insights onto that beauty. Children and their socialization and the beauty and dignity of aging in traditional societies inspire comments, as do contrasts between pristine nature and environmental hazards posed by development. More generally, Michael Kimmel writes, "Rachel makes a choice, reminding us of the simple dignity and even breathtaking beauty of the people over whom the economic machine runs in the march towards profits." And Daniel Rothenberg says of the photos and the photographer, "They express a direct, personal and emotional engagement with the lives of others while also conveying enough intellectual distance to be analytic. Their play between intimacy and commentary defines the photographer as someone bound to her subject, yet concerned with the larger implications of the images she records." Credit: ©Estate of Rachel Tanur


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