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Behind the Images of Research: Students Answer Questions About Their Selected Works

(L-R) Maura McGee, Shah Faisal Mazhar, Mabel Gray, and Maura McCreight

“Portal to Hell” by Shah Faisal Mazhar

“Portal to Hell” by Shah Faisal Mazhar

Second-year Physics Ph.D. student Shah Faisal Mazhar studies nonlinear optics and experimental physics. He captured this image at the Institute for Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Lasers at The City College of New York.

The Graduate Center: What big questions are you trying to answer with your research?

Faisal Mazhar: How to understand nonlinear light-matter interactions more rigorously for biomedical imaging and other applications.

GC: What is most fascinating to you about your research?

Faisal Mazhar: How light-matter interaction can tell us the internal mystery of a material. Also, the esthetic spectra can be seen in nonlinear interaction.

GC: How does your image connect to your research?

Faisal Mazhar: The picture shows the white supercontinuum at the middle and the four-wave mixing as the multicolor rings of the outer radius. These are the basic nonlinear interactions I study for different materials in different conditions. This picture represents the combination of the most important nonlinear light-matter phenomena that my research is based on.

“Microscopic Universe” by Mabel Gray

“Microscopic Universe” by Mabel Gray

Mabel Gray, an Earth and Environmental Sciences Ph.D. student, looks to meteorites for clues as to how life on Earth began. Her colorful image shows a thin slice of the Ningqiang meteorite.

The Graduate Center: What big questions are you trying to answer with your research?

Gray: When I describe what I’m researching, I often say I want to find out more about the origin of Earth and life, and how meteorites contributed to these processes.

GC: What is most fascinating to you about your research?

Gray: I think one of the biggest questions still out there is: What is life and why are we here? It is such a thrill to be working on answering even a really small fraction of that question. I really like how everyone is connected to my research, since we are all life living on this planet. When I discuss my area with others, everyone has thoughts about the universe and our presence in it. It is a universal topic, relevant to anyone.

GC: How does your image connect to your research?

Gray: The image is a photomicrograph of a very thin slice of a chondrite. A chondrite is a type of meteorite that is thought to be the building block of Earth. One of the components of these meteorites are organic molecules, which might have been the starting material of life on our planet. I research chondrites, hoping to find out more about their contribution to the origin of Earth and life.

“Photographic Archives of the Algerian War of Independence” by Maura McCreight

“Photographic Archives of the Algerian War of Independence” by Maura McCreight

Maura McCreight, a fourth-year Art History Ph.D. student, is examining women’s roles in the Algerian War for Independence through photography from that time. Her image of images shows her work-from-home space with some of the photographs she has studied in the last year.

The Graduate Center: What big questions are you trying to answer with your research?

McCreight: Why is retracing the inner workings of photography from the Algerian War for Independence crucial to understanding the history of the conflict? In what ways do photographs and visual materials from the war give insight to the complexity of women's roles in the Algerian Revolution? In what ways can the war's scattered archival existence trace stories of the images and their image-makers? How are photographs from the war reused and memorialized in their afterlives? 

GC: What is most fascinating to you about your research?

McCreight: The intricate stories revealed from the images and how they intersect or overlap. I am also fascinated by the overwhelming challenge of excavating images from the war as a separate process from the experience of writing.

GC: How does your image connect to your research?

McCreight: The image shows a part of my at-home workspace where I've hung a selection of found and/or purchased photographs related to my dissertation research, which aims to retrace photographs and other visual materials of women during the Algerian War for Independence, a conflict that began in 1954 and ended French colonization in Algeria in 1962. The shot is a bit curated — my laptop does not always sit where it is placed in the image — but demonstrates the importance of looking at images while researching and writing. Visual analysis is one of the foundations of art history and remains a significant part of my method. Despite not being able to travel or visit local institutions in person, I was able to find an abundance of fascinating photographs, which, quite honestly, gave me energy and life while sitting at my little desk this past year and a half! Looking at my Image of Research I am also reminded of the many attentive and knowledgeable librarians, archivists, and administrators who aided much of my work during this time. Making progress on my research is simply not possible without building relationships with these experts. 

“When I go out, I want to be free, not courageous” by Maura McGee

“When I go out, I want to be free, not courageous” by Maura McGee

Maura McGee is a Sociology Ph.D. candidate studying the way race, ethnicity, and immigration play out in the gentrification of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Paris. She snapped her photo in France on the day the country went into a national lockdown for COVID-19.

The Graduate Center: What big questions are you trying to answer with your research?

McGee: What role do race and immigration play in the process of gentrification? How does the role of the state in the unfolding of gentrification differ across national and local contexts? How do immigrants and racial minorities contend with changes to their neighborhoods induced by gentrification and the ways in which local land use regulations guide it? Do they mobilize resistance to local development policies, and if so, how?

GC: What is most fascinating to you about your research?

McGee: How streets, stores, and meeting places are essential to the construction of collective identities for communities, as residents and shoppers enact social relations, satisfy material and cultural needs, and appropriate space that is often contested by old-timers, ethnic communities, and gentrifiers. As neighborhoods gentrify and the commercial landscape changes, I’m interested in how communities negotiate social identities and appropriate contested urban spaces, and how people become active citizens in this process.

GC: How does your image connect to your research? 

McGee: I study processes of commercial gentrification in Black and immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Paris, tracing the transformation of local shopping streets. I’m interested in how people use neighborhood spaces and fulfill material and social needs, and how communities respond to the disruptions that gentrification induces. I study the Goutte d'Or neighborhood in Paris's 18th arrondissement, the symbolic center for many African communities in France due to its important commercial landscape. It is also a highly stigmatized and policed neighborhood. I was in Paris conducting fieldwork for my dissertation when the pandemic hit in March 2020. A national lockdown went into effect on March 17, and I walked down rue Myrha, one of the principal shopping streets in the neighborhood that’s been the target of the city’s urban renewal plans to upscale the commercial offerings. On that day, the neighborhood was abuzz with local residents and shoppers from around the greater Paris region stocking up on groceries and exchanging information with each other. At noon, the national police arrived and began ticketing anyone who was in the street, exhibiting a stronger police presence than in other Paris neighborhoods with fewer migrants and racial minorities. I took this photo of a man walking down rue Myrha in front of a mural that reads, “When I go out, I want to be free, not courageous.” The symbolic power of the image speaks to the violence of gentrification and policing in racial and ethnic minority neighborhoods, as well as to the damage the pandemic inflicted and the challenges people faced during the strict lockdown.

Submitted on: JUL 8, 2021

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