Photographs have long been used as a research tool, but it was a personal connection with her subjects that prompted Rachel Phillips Hall, a medical anthropology student, to carry a camera during her fieldwork.
A photo taken one idle afternoon, of a mother and daughter in the Q’eqchi’ Maya communities of southern Belize, is this year’s grand prize winner of the University of Saskatchewan’s Images of Research competition. For a second year, the contest invited faculty and students to enter photos that communicate the impact of their research to a broad community.
“We were seeking images that tell a story about the research we do,” said Kathryn Warden, director of research profile and impact at the U of S. The contest received nearly 100 submissions across four categories and the winning photos represent a range of disciplines and research settings.
“These photographs are beautiful in so many different ways, whether you’re going inside a cell or watching the aurora borealis or whether you’re out in the field in the environment, looking at the world from a gopher’s perspective,” Ms. Warden said.
Ranjan Datta, a PhD graduate in environment and sustainability took home prizes in three categories last year. Dr. Datta sent prize money and prints back to his Laitu Khyeng indigenous community in Bangladesh, where he had taken his photos with guidance from elders. “I’m not saying my research has changed many things, but it’s a starting point,” he said. “If we can show our ways of thinking, ways of sharing, then it’s very significant to the mainstream knowledge.”
Since the U of S photo competition was launched last spring, NSERC has opened calls for a similar photo contest called Science Exposed, and the research offices of McMaster University, Queen’s University and University of Lethbridge have launched similar initiatives, all of which place an emphasis on the beauty, breadth and impact of research.
For Ms. Phillips, research impact is reciprocal and can be felt in many ways. The woman in her winning photo had accompanied her on visits with locals, helping to translate and transcribe interviews. “What I really like about that photograph is the look that the mother is giving her child and how the child is just kind of looking directly into the camera and she’s very serious,” Ms. Phillips said. “They were really special to me during my research, so that particular photograph has a lot of emotional meaning to me.”