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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2002

Book Reviews

Envisioning Science: The Design and Craft of the Science Image

Julia Gelfand
Applied Science & Engineering Librarian
University of California, Irvine

Frankel, Felice. Envisioning Science: The Design and Craft of the Science Image. MIT Press, 2002. ISBN: 0262062259 $55.00

Combining science and art is no easy feat. The academic community is examining new methods of scholarly and scientific communication. The current lingua franca that defines presentation and output of research and creativity uses new technologies to promote forms and formats. Felice Frankel, Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, demonstrates that with her latest volume of work by showcasing how science can come alive with vibrant color and texture and how the power of photographic illustration is applied to describe difficult scientific relationships, transactions and paradoxes. She also repeats throughout the book how important experimentation is in her work and that the final photograph that she takes may be after many attempts using different techniques.

Frankel's photographic work is well represented in an earlier volume co-authored with George M. Whitesides, On the Surface of Things: Images of the Extraordinary in Science and in many collaborations with researchers on the covers and pages of the major science journals, including Nature, Science, Journal of Physical Chemistry, Discover, New Scientist, Physics Today, Cellular Biology, and Wired.

As a science photographer, her experimentation and commitment has proven that images speak to a far wider audience than text alone. This method of communication does not replace, but certainly enhances the reading experience and comprehension and offers the reader or viewer a different appreciation of the science being described. Illustrative photographs contribute to informative understandings of complex matter and show how science is conducted.

Scale is something that has to be understood as many of the photographs were taken using a stereomicroscope or a compound microscope. The editing process is not to make images prettier or to express the photographer, but to communicate the science and clarifies "in the scientist's mind what is the essence of the science."

Frankel shares some basic assumptions about this book: readers have a basic knowledge of photography, and that most readers may be the ones who will be behind the camera. I am not convinced that the second assumption is entirely correct. Intended to be a form of a laboratory manual, it is really not released for that application because of its awkward size and binding.

The organization of the volume includes an introductory historical chapter by Phyllis Morrison. This chapter demonstrates how a range of images from cave painting to Copernicus's drawings, Galileo's Moon Drawings, Robert Hooke's Head of a Fly, DNA unfolding, radiography, and other examples have set the stage for how complex photography has now become as we expect color and texture to be so accurate and descriptive.

Having devoted the early part of her career to photographing landscapes and architecture, the migration in recent years to where she has been working in laboratories of chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers is a transformation. She now focuses on reflective surfaces, angles, points, fluidity and relationships that develop due to light and placement that makes her images compelling and encourages much discussion. At the end of the book, Frankel includes a visual index containing information about the content of the images and provides considerable information about the technology and different cameras one can use. Thus, the focus of the book is on how to make good images because the scientist is responsible for making good science.

The last chapter on presentation is very important because it addresses professional and artistic integrity and taking advantage of new technologies that will scan, archive and allow for the best methods of presentation. Vexing images is covered as is the ethical dimensions of altering images. For a librarian, the values and interests reflected in this chapter definitely intersect with the concerns facing digital and print preservation. Frankel suggests that editorial policies should reflect statements that indicate how much the image has been modified by software or other means.

Does this book meet Frankel's goal about encouraging readers to see differently? Since I am no photographer, and will not likely use this book to help illustrate any phenomena or physical change, I read it carefully and examined each image and pondered whether these images helped me better understand the science and what was happening in each shot. Clearly, the images give another dimension and the book has far wider appeal than to only potential photographers or to scientists who will become better informed about how they can capture their work or collaborate with someone like Felice Frankel. Dazzling, aesthetic, compelling and colorful don't begin to describe the images found on nearly every page or the better insights one develops as one reviews the book.

Envisioning Science belongs in both academic science and art libraries and will also find a following by art connoisseurs and photographers. It offers consideration for emerging careers to those who are interested in applying their artistic and technological orientations to working with scientific matter in very creative ways to capture the elements of laboratory science that are most relevant to documenting research. As Frankel states often, "Making Good Science Look Good" is the goal of this volume and her collective work in the medium of photography that is so well described in Envisioning Science.

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