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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 12, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 25
Here's looking at JHU

One of 430 subjects so far, senior Laura Carrihill hams it up in the MSE Library for photographer Jay VanRensselaer.

By Greg Rienzi

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 called gobos.

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 portrait.

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 printing.

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 him.

"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


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