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Arizona State University graduate students are bringing top researchers of deserts from around the world to ASU and presenting science in a way that’s unexpected – as art.
Students have created the PhotoGraphy Workshop as part of the three-day conference “Dynamic deserts: resource uncertainty in arid environments” held Feb. 26-March 1 in Old Main’s Carson Ballroom on the Tempe campus. Supported by the Frontiers in Life Sciences program, developed by the School of Life Sciences to enhance student training and career development, graduate student organizers have planned and will host an innovative forum with 114 participants from five continents, including key faculty speakers from Israel, Chile, Spain and Australia’s desert hot spots.
“We wanted to create an intimate, intensive venue where ASU students from many different disciplines could share information and approaches,” says Bethany Cutts, a doctoral student studying water policy. “It’s rare for students to have access to leading scientists, natural resource managers, policy makers and educators who are all committed to building international, cross-disciplinary collaborations.”
To complement the scientific exchange, conference organizers created the workshop to consider how scientists can better communicate their work to the public. This is where ASU Regent’s Professor Mark Klett takes center stage as invited speaker and PhotoGraphy workshop moderator on Feb. 28.
The collaboration is led by Klett, a professor in ASU’s Herberger College of the Arts, and spearheaded by urban ecology students Cutts and Christofer Bang. It will center on photographs depicting Phoenix and its residents provided by Klett and graduate students participating in the Phoenix Transect Project and Klett’s own Re-Photography Project. In addition, materials from ASU’s Central Arizona Project Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) program will be combined with tables, graphs and other figures added by conference participants from around the globe.
Workshop attendees will discuss the pairing of photographic art with research results and the potential implications for scientific literacy in the public. The workshop will focus on "ways of seeing pattern and process," Klett says, and involve photographers, scientists and outreach coordinators. The gathering will allow participants to share photographs and research results that relate to nature and culture in the world’s deserts.
“We hope this collaboration will serve as inspiration for open and continuous dialogue between scientists and artists about ways to develop new interpretive frames for completed work and new work,” Klett says.
“In preparation for the workshop, students from CAP LTER and the School of Life Sciences, and Mark Klett's art students have already exchanged stories, supported by graphs and photographs, respectively,” Bang says. “Science students have been challenged to think beyond their own work, while the art students have gained a deeper understanding of what they are photographing.”
Ultimately, the Dynamic Deserts graduate student organizers and Klett hope to inspire others and further collaborations between scientists and artists, Bang says. To work toward this goal, copies of art, tables and figures involved in the development of the project will be housed on the Internet after the conference. Organizers will also use ideas from the conference to develop an exhibit to take on the road.
“Linking the arts and science creates opportunities for dialogue between people who view patterns and processes in the same spaces through very different lenses. For scientists, it is a chance to pursue connections between projects whose interrelatedness is reinterpreted through photography,” notes Klett.
Klett, who is a geologist as well as a photographer, has focused on the intersection of culture, landscapes and time. He established his artistic perspective on the American West landscape as the chief photographer for the Rephotographic Survey Project (1977-1979), which rephotographed Western sites first captured by surveyors in the late 1800s. Since then, Klett has authored 13 books and exhibited his work nationally and internationally.
“In addition to a unique format to examine art and science, this conference will incorporate subject areas ranging from global climate change to physiology to behavior, all within the context of resource uncertainty,” notes organizer, Beth Hagen, a doctoral student in the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“The Frontiers in Life Sciences Conference Series is especially timely in light of high amounts of uncertainty associated with future climate change. This conference will allow us to form collaborations and spur synthesis between researchers, managers and artists that work in desert systems throughout the world.”