Advanced Math/Science Research Update

by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program

January 15, 2013

Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students.  AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.

The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope.  This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years.  The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus. 

One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14.  Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.

Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!

Independent Study Profile: Theo Friedman '11
Posted 12/07/2010 01:00AM

For Theo Friedman '11, an independent study in Advanced Photography means pushing his comfort zone. In his three years of regular photo classes at Berkshire, Theo has become adept at capturing what French photographer Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism, calls “the decisive moment”: a moment in time that tells a story.

In fact, Theo has captured those moments extraordinarily well. His photos have been on display throughout Berkshire School. He won the Allen Buck Prize for Excellence in Photography as a fourth-former. His photography teacher, Paul Banevicius, who is also his advisor for the independent study, calls Theo an “exciting student to work with.”

“Theo began as a freshman without any significant photo experience, and he has evolved and developed, from shooting black and white, to trying digital, to developing his own unique sensibility,” says Mr. Banevicius. “That’s what every photo teacher hopes: that the student will have a unique sensibility. You look at a picture, and you know it’s a Theo Friedman picture.”

But Theo’s independent study is not about being in the right place at the right time to capture an image that is already there. This fall, he has opted to challenge himself by shooting photographs that are staged: incorporating all of the things you might direct in a play, such as sets, actors, costumes, props, lighting. Initially, Theo planned to focus on portraiture, hoping to capture who people are by putting them in a comfortable environment and background to tell their personal story.

As the semester progressed, that focus has shifted. Theo describes his current work as “trying to modernize images from classic stories or tales.”

For example, he did a shoot based on Macbeth, but instead of dressing characters in Elizabethan clothing and directly representing a scene from the play, he took a photo of his friend, Marie Humes, in jeans and a sweater, washing red paint off her hands in a bathroom sink. Instead of trying to recreate an iconic scene from Hamlet, Theo created a photo where, he says, “you can get a sense of a ghost. In my house, I put a sheet over one side of a glass-paneled door and had a light behind me. My shadow was projected half on the sheet—the shot was essentially a self-portrait. I didn’t want to create a theatrical reenactment of a scene: I wanted to create a modern, personal interpretation of an element of a classic story.”

Theo says that viewers can look at all of his staged photos and play a game with each: try to guess what story this photo is alluding to or updating.

Photography such as this is risky. Mr. Banevicius points out that Theo has to choreograph and direct these staged scenes without being overly mannered or fake: he doesn’t want them to look like Victorian photographs. The goal is to “make them sincere, that they become unique to Theo.” Theo agrees: “I’ve had success in being a bystander, taking a photo at the right time—but I’ve found a real challenge in creating a whole scene.”

He’s also spent hours and hours staging some of the shots. One photo shoot can take 5 or 6 hours, to find the props, get in touch with models, pick them up if they can’t drive, find a place to shoot. “I’ve had many problems with that,” Theo says. “People haven’t been cooperative. I needed outlets in town to plug my lights in, and stores said no—just asking to plug a light in for an hour shouldn’t be such a big deal.” Luckily, new wireless lights have been ordered by the Art Department.

Assessing his semester’s project, Theo laughs that “It’s been very independent. There are certain times when I forget I’m in this class, and then I have to remind myself that an independent study is still a class and I have to do some work. It’s funny: I found I’ve been doing considerably more work for this class than for other photo classes.” He notes that, in trying a new approach to photography, he has gained respect for professional photographers such as Gregory Crewdson, who has “an amazing ability to create a photo that evokes powerful emotion and puts the viewer in the situation so well. I have tried his way of doing things by trying to take pictures that evoke emotion—and it’s been humbling to realize how hard that is.”

Theo plans to include some of his staged photographs in his upcoming show at The Marketplace in Sheffield this December and at Fuel Coffee in Great Barrington next summer. His entire project will be on display for the Berkshire community next May for Independent Study Night.

To learn more about the Independent Study Program at Berkshire, click here.
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