Jay VanRensselaer prompted me to sit on the stool, arms
crossed. All around me stood an array of photographic
equipment: strobes, a background, a softbox and two panels
It was time for my close-up.
I started the photo shoot with a standard smile, then
a serious look.
"OK, now do something whacky," he said. Oh oh, not
ready for this one. Had to think fast, but all I could come
up with was an exaggerated eye squint. "Great," he said.
Well, I guess that will have to do.
No, this wasn't a modeling gig (but thanks to those of
you who were thinking it), or even an update of my ID
badge. VanRensselaer, director of Homewood Imaging and
Photographic Services, was here at our Bond Street
Wharf office because he wanted faces — Hopkins faces to be
exact. The more, the better.
Homewood Imaging and Photographic Services, in
collaboration with the Photography Club and the Arts and
Sciences Dean's Office, has embarked on a photographic
project called "The Faces of Hopkins." The goal is to
capture a cross section of the people — students, staff and
faculty — who make Johns Hopkins unique.
Since Feb. 25, VanRensselaer and his crew have been
setting up a "photo booth" at various locations on the
Homewood campus and in satellite offices to snap shots of
as many Johns Hopkins affiliates as they can.
The shoots are quick, informal and rather lively.
VanRensselaer — or, if you prefer, a willing colleague — takes
anywhere from a half dozen to 30 pictures of each
participant, standing or sitting. The hope is to get images
that are more relaxed and spontaneous than a typical
He plans to pick four images of each person — reflecting
the spirit of the individual — to run as a photo strip,
similar to what comes out of a photo booth.
Once the project is completed, the images will be
brought together in 10-inch by 60-inch strips that will be
displayed at various spots on the Homewood campus and,
starting the weekend of the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair and
continuing through reunion weekend, in the Gilman tunnel.
To fully line the walls, VanRensselaer said he needs 500
faces. To date, he has 430, with many locations still to be
visited this week.
The project originates from a portrait demonstration
in VanRensselaer's Introduction to Photography class.
During one session, he had his students photograph each
other (and him, too). Out of this, he created a piece
called photo booth #1 that consisted of a series of 44
photographs of their faces. The images were printed in
strips of four and then mounted together. Andy Warhol's
Photo Booth Self-Portrait inspired him.
VanRensselaer displayed the piece at last year's
Homewood Arts Workshop Faculty Art Show, and it stirred a
bit of attention. He was encouraged by Paula Burger, dean
of undergraduate education, to expand the project to the
entire Homewood community.
"She thought my original 'photo booth' piece made a
good statement about the diversity at Hopkins. I had people
from all over the world in my class," he said. "We started
talking about this as a larger photo project that could put
a human face on Hopkins. We both wanted to capture the
diversity here, and show the people who make this place
what it is."
VanRensselaer said he encourages everyone who is part
of the university to participate in the project. So far,
his hard drive holds digital images of students, senior
leadership (including President Brody in a light-hearted
moment), maintenance workers, faculty, dining services
employees and administrative staff, and still has room for
scores more. For those who may worry about an "unwanted"
photo getting through, VanRensselaer said that he plans to
e-mail proofs to the subjects for their approval before
How many faces does he think he will get?
VanRensselaer said he's been very gratified by the response
so far and thinks that many more smiling faces await
"I don't know where this is going to go, or how big it
will get," he said. "People are enjoying it and having fun.
So am I."
For more information and a list of upcoming photo
booth locations and times, go to