Physics Meets Photography: A Harvard Engineer Fuses Art and Science
It’s one thing to teach yourself how to use a camera. It’s quite another thing to teach yourself how to use a camera when you’re a Harvard-educated engineer in applied physics. Such is the case with John Chervinsky, the self-taught American photographer whose “Studio Physics + An Experiment in Perspective” series are currently showing at Bloomington’s Pictura Gallery.
In other words, Chervinsky doesn’t just understand how shutter speed works—he understands all the ins and outs of classical optics, and spent nearly two decades running a particle accelerator at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. His work reflects his expertise in both art and science—and his unique ability to manipulate both the camera, the subject, even time itself, to create playful and thought-provoking pieces. Some of the works in the current show are modern takes on the traditional still life, as in Oranges, Box and Painting on Door (2011), in which a single orange hurtles through the background, and in Apples, Painting on Door (2011), in which the mirror reflection of an arrangement of apples doesn’t appear to match reality.
Other pieces refer more directly to Chervinsky’s scientific background: The Gravity of Mars (2005) portrays clearly identifiable concepts from astronomy and gravity to simple machines, while Entrophy (2003) features a scientific equation partly erased from a blackboard. Still others have a more personal feel, while remaining within Chervinsky’s science-minded aesthetic: the evocative Work (2004) shows the progression of a woman’s life, the all-too-rapid succession between a smiling young woman and her counterpart, half a century later.
These innovative works have earned Chervinsky attention since the start of his artistic career. “Experiment in Perspective” first opened at the Griffin Museum of Photography in 2005 and has since traveled across the United States, anchoring solo shows at Michael Mazzeo Gallery in New York and Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Though his work is now part of permanent collections at museums like the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and has been published in outlets from Le Monde to The Los Angeles Times, Chervinsky still works at Harvard. At Harvard’s Rowland Institute, to be exact—a subsection of the university that was, quite fittingly, founded by Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera.