Interview by Yan Yan Mao

Scott is a Graduate Student at MIT. This fall he cross registered to take Sharon Harper’s Intermediate Photography Class.

Yan Yan Mao: Can you tell me about your project?

James Scott Berdahl: It’s a look at the city as a natural environment. I mean that in a sense of any other natural environment, like the desert, the jungle, etc. We have this distinction that the city is a different environment, that is only mental. The same processes that govern why a tree grows in the jungle and the same physical laws apply to humans and our cities. It’s the same sort of competition. It’s certainly a unique environment but it’s still a natural environment.

YY: What is your major?

JSB: My undergraduate major was geology and I spent lots of time in the natural environment. Now I am doing a master’s program in writing, non-fiction scientific writing.

YY: I see that there are trees in every photo, is that intentional?

JSB: That’s not entirely intentional. They started sneaking in. I started noticing that halfway though the project. I don’t distinguish between buildings and trees anymore than I would between a tree and a mountain.

YY: Where are all these taken?

JSB: These are mostly taken between MIT and Harvard, due to time constraints. But there’s a surprising amount of microcosms on that walk. It was fun to photograph those.

YY: What is the final medium for this project? How is it going to be presented?

JSB: A collection of large prints.

YY: Would you make a book out of the project?

JSB: I thought about that when I was shooting. I took some pictures that aren’t in this collection that are details of these images. Like colors or textures that really jump out and compliment the larger images. I envision those set opposite the larger pictures in the book.

YY: How would you expand this project?

JSB: I think one thing that would help would be to have time to explore more and take more pictures. It’s really interesting what jumps out when you are not expecting it. A lot of my favorite pictures are spur of the moment. Another thing, I grew up taking more traditional landscape shots out in very rural mountainous areas, so I have been unconsciously applying that technique to the urban environment. I’ve noticed going back through some of my older pictures that some of the pictures I’ve taken for this project, say a building at my school, can be placed next to a mountain. The similarities between compositions, colors and the feel of the images are very striking.

YY: What are you using to take these photos?

JSB: I’ve been shooting on the 6×9, which mirrors other cameras I have been working with.

YY: What would you change about this project if you had more time and resources?

JBS: I think I would do the project I describe. At first I would go through old landscape shots I’ve taken and try to make similar compositions with a different subject matter.


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