Sara Yerkes
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Minds in the Cave

     At the Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara, where I shot these images, I learned that physicists work only on blackboards (not whiteboards). Throughout this building, designed by Michael Graves, blackboards can be found in the lounge, in hallways, the library and even outdoors in the courtyard.  Blackboards have always appealed to me for their range of tonality, the deep black sheen of a pristine board, the highly contrasting strokes of chalk, and the murky smokiness of erasures upon erasures.

    As I photographed these visually interesting formulas I was struck by the salient characteristics of one particular indoor setting.  In the late afternoon the sunlight pours through the glass doors nullifying the blackness of the slate and setting up a tension between the inside, where the hard-working scientists labor at their tasks, and the beckoning world of sun and beach just beyond.

    This heightened sense of the contrast between the inside and the outside reminded me of early humans painting on cave walls with potent symbols of a world they are trying to understand. In the same way these present-day scholars shun the outdoors and immerse themselves in formulas, chalking their thoughts on a slate chalkboard.

     I work with B&W 120mm film to produce a silver-gelatin print.  This print is scanned to create a digital file to which I add, at times, a little color corresponding to the brilliant Crayola chalk, which the scientists often use.


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