Labor Day spotlight on MIT’s custodians

For Labor Day for MIT's News Office, I photographed a handful of custodians in the school's Department of Facilities. I've really shot against a backdrop and I had about 45 minutes to photograph 11 people before they clocked out after a night shift, so the project was a wonderful challenge. We chose a simple white background to emphasize the faces and personality across the diverse staff.

The images ended up as MIT's homepage for the Labor Day weekend.


On the street in Xian, China

I had a couple of days in Xian, China, in between trips to Chongqing, Yan'an, and Pingliang last year. It was brutally hot, but I tried to get out and explore for at least a few hours each day. The town's a common stop on the tourist route; the Terracotta Warriors were found not far outside the city.

But on this visit, I decided to spend my time mostly outside the city walls in the growing outer districts where people live. I went to out-of-the-way parks, took subways and buses to the ends of their lines, ducked into alleyway markets, found small temples not listed in tourguides, and otherwise just tried to go to places where a tourist might not have reason to go.

On top of Hua Shan – Domestic tourism in China

I'm fascinated by tourism, especially in China. So last summer, I jumped at the chance to go to Hua Shan (Mount Hua), one of China's five great mountains. It's a little ways outside of Xian, Shaanxi Province, and it's full of tourists, photo hawkers, and workers carrying heavy loads up what seem like indefinite staircases. Most skip the stairs and just take a cable car to the top where they can check out temples and hazy views of surrounding peaks and farmland.

The group I was with was on a fast schedule, so I could only visit one of the 5 peaks at Hua Shan in the hour we were on top, and unfortunately I didn't get anywhere close to the infamous plank path.

Recent portraits for MIT News

I photograph a lot of students, professors, and scientists for MIT's News Office, but it's been a while since I've shown any here on my website (my last roundup of these portraits was in 2012). These are a few favorites from the past year. These shoots are always tough...labs look very similar, the subjects are pressed for time (20 minutes or less is common), and it's difficult to get access ahead of time to scout or set up equipment.

Here you can see the following people: undergraduate architecture student Tiandra Ray, International Programs Professor in Management and Professor of Finance Jonathan Parker, Associate Professor of Biological Engineering Ernest Fraenkel, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Domitilla Del Vecchio, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tonio Buonassisi, Robert A. Swanson Career Development Associate Professor of Life Sciences Jeroen Saeij, Associate Professor of Marketing Juanjuan Zhang, Associate Professor of Biology Iain Cheeseman, David Austin Professor of Management at the Sloan School of Management Sinan Aral, and Adjunct Professor at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and 2014 Turing Award winner Michael Stonebraker.

These and more from my work photographing MIT faculty and students are available for licensing in my archive.

Chongqing Streetfood

Last August, I spent an evening (and a few daylight hours while shooting other things) photographing Chongqing's streetfood culture. Big thanks are due to David at the Asia Society's China File for support on this project. You can see more images in my archive: Chongqing Streetfood.

It doesn't matter how many times you tell the cook not to add hot peppers, anything you order in Chongqing is going to be mouth-numbing and hotter than you've ever tasted before. It will be good, but it will be hot. From hotpot with friends to streetside barbecue to cold noodles from a bangbang man's buckets, Chongqing's myriad street vendors operate late into the night. You'll be lucky to get a table at the restaurants opening onto Tiyu Road, an area in Chongqing's central Yuzhong district and ground zero for the city's streetfood scene. But just about every little road throughout the city has a few cooks that set up shop on the street.

In the morning, you can find the standard oil sticks (youtiao) and porridge (xifan or congee), though there's usually an assortment of spicy pickled vegetables, tofus, and beans to add to the bowl. After the heat of the day cools off, vendors start parking their carts at street corners and the edges of plazas around Chongqing. On Shibati, the famous 18 Steps neighborhood built on a staircase, the street vendors are disappearing because the area, one of Chongqing's oldest remaining neighbhorhoods, will be demolished and redeveloped starting in October 2014. Most street vendors' customers now are demolition workers. Near Ciqikou ancient town, the tourists disappear at night, and shaokao vendors fill up the sidewalks. In Shapingba, street vendors fill the open areas near Chongqing University's gates. In Deyi World Plaza, one of Chongqing's glittering club and shopping areas, though, independent street vendors have given way to franchise kiosks.

Recent work for the Wall Street Journal

Reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Brian M. Clark – Millbury, Massachusetts

I had a handful of quick-hit assignments for the Wall Street Journal recently, including what I think may be my shortest ever.

For a story on pangasius fish importing, I had one minute and fifty-five seconds to photograph three pallets being loaded into a truck at Preferred Freezer Services in Everett, Massachusetts. It was a very challenging shoot, not least because my right arm was broken while I shot it.

For a story on a new type of funding for startups, I spent a few minutes with Drafted founder Vinayak Ranade in the Blade incubator offices in Boston. The crux of the story is that a relatively new type of funding agreement called a Simple Agreements for Future Equity allows new startups to handle funding in a much easier way than traditional convertible note funding.

For a story on agricultural automation, I tried my hand at product photography by shooting the HV-100 robots made by Harvest Automation in North Billerica, Massachusetts. The robots are capable of lifting and repositioning potted plants and are used by greenhouses and other agricultural operations. The robots can be used in non-agricultural settings, as well.

And for a story on a gynecological technique called morcellation that has fallen out of favor, I spent a few minutes with Millbury, Mass., reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Brian M. Clark in his offices.

Pangasius (basa) fish imports – Preferred Freezer Services in Everett, Massachusetts

Harvest Automation HV-100 Agricultural Robot – North Billerica, Massachusetts

Vinayak Ranade, founder of startup company Drafted in Boston

error: All images and text © M. Scott Brauer 2005-present