Experimental - NOMINEE: Sheung Yiu
The Poetics of Science
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Images in science textbooks are not as scientific as one may have thought.
‘Look Like Science’ is a photography research project exploring how abstract science concepts are communicated to the public, particularly students, through photographic images. The project investigates the scientific imagery used throughout the history of photography and takes a critical look at how it has affected the way we understand science. By closely examining these images, we can begin to reflect on and improve our way of communicating science, and in addition, explore photography as an expressive and instrumental medium to connect the arts and science.
“The eye of the camera would see plainly where the human eye would find nothing but darkness.” The objective mechanical eyes capture truth on papers with such details and such speed, it was quickly adopted as a research tool. Photography has since been instrumental to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Whether it is the photographic plate made by Henri Becquerel showing the presence of invisible radiation or the Hubble Space Telescope recording the light of galaxies 3-8 billion light years distant from our planet, countless photos serve as evidence, pointing scientists to the right direction in the pursuit of knowledge.
The photographs on science textbooks, on the other hand, work in a vastly different way. Upon a closer look, the photos in science textbooks are less “scientific” than one would expect. “Scientific” as in based on the principle of science. “Scientific” as in a truthful representation of our physical world. Stock photos of everyday objects, experimental equipments shot against monochrome backgrounds; irrelevant cartoons grace the pages of physics and chemistry textbooks. These garish images of science communication are unified by a recognizable aesthetics, one motivated by a desire to communicate abstract ideas in what is perceived as the most “intelligible” manners but constrained by technical limitations and tight budgets. These symbols and clichés repeat, multiply and reproduce, time after time, books after books. When, eventually, a pattern appears, a visual language emerges. Perhaps unintentionally, Ideas begins to be communicated and governed by the grammar of these images as much as the images itself.
For the past two years, I studied imagery in science textbooks in Hong Kong and Taiwan and simultaneously began an ongoing photography series on the subject. I am able to analyse the unique visual language of imagery in science communication. On top of that, how photography, graphic design and text are weaved together to shape our understanding (or misunderstanding) of our world.
Sheung Yiu is a self-taught independent photographer based in Hong Kong. His work explores the many facets of photography in contemporary culture. "How well do we understand images? How our assumptions about photography alter our perception of reality? What is being manipulated behind this veil of obscurity so embedded in photography?" remains the main underlying questions I strive to explore in my work. currently focuses on the use of photography in science.
His work is published in various online photo zines such as ThisIsPaper, Ignant, FSTOP magazine, Der Greif, Lintroller, Oitzarisme, get addicted to..., Fotografia Magazine, NeochaEDGE and Lenscratch. He was selected Der Greif Guest-Room exhibition and won honourable mention in MIFA photography awards. He is shortlisted for Lucie Foundation Scholarship Program in 2015. In 2017, He won the Grand Jury Prix at Wonder Foto Day, an portfolio review and exhibition in Taiwan.