Researcher highlights importance of photography in science


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Photo by Shirley Yu |

Ilya Raskin, a distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, demonstrates photography’s emotional engagement.


Photography’s utility extends beyond that of capturing timeless moments and mouth-watering foods — it can also serve science by capturing the sincere beauty of biodiversity and multi-ethnicity.

Ilya Raskin, a distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, has traveled the world to capture the science of nature through photography.

A photo of a polar bear clinging to melting ice makes people more emotionally connected than an article on the effects of global warming. Conservationists use photography as a tool to make an abstract issue tangible and personal.

Raskin’s travels to the habitats of the organisms he studies connected him more to nature than any work done in his lab.

“I feel much safer with the lions in Africa than I do in New York City,” he said. “It’s the most primordial instinct we have, this affiliation with nature.”

When people are so focused on their work and their individual research, they lose sight of how their work fits into the bigger picture of the planet, said Albert Ayeni, an instructor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology.

“Many of us are so absorbed in what we do that we don’t really think so much about how the rest of the world affects us and how we affect the rest of the world,” Ayeni said.

He praised Raskin for having the talent to take his academic work and relate it to his passion of photography by showing the wider impact of biological research.

“What sets Dr. Raskin apart is that what is so valuable and important to him — diversity and conservation — he brings to all of us through photography,” Ayeni said.

Raskin is the president of the Global Institute for BioExploration at Rutgers, which focuses on bioexploration in developing countries for natural pharmacological discoveries. GIBEX commits to conservation of the natural environment and ethical development of society.

Conservation is an effort to which all humans must contribute, and those who do not recognize its importance are going to suffer the consequences of disrupting the balance of the ecosystem, Ayeni said.

He used the example of obesity in the United States to show how a lack of awareness of conservation affects society.

The issue of people treating food as a luxury instead of a necessity means they are being wasteful by eating more than they need, he said. They also place burdens on the health care field, and society suffers.

In the same way that human actions impact their own environment, all organisms are interconnected and affect each other, he said.

Ayeni said proper education about the effects of humans’ actions on biodiversity gives people the knowledge they need to maintain the planet’s balance.

Raskin intends to use his photography to showcase the beauty of biodiversity and use this to teach humans about the conservation of nature.

Ian MacCloud, a junior in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, noted that images have always had a powerful impact on people, and using that impact is much more effective than speaking and writing.

“Humans experience the world through their eyes more than anything, so I think it makes perfect sense to draw on that,” MacCloud said.

Raskin said nature magazines such as National Geographic are aware that many of their readers focus most of their attention on the photos they display. Publishers and photographers use that to their advantage.

Raskin has written several essays about the importance of conservation, but his photography still has the greater impact and captures the attention of a global audience, Ayeni said.

“The power of pictures, of those iconic images — that is something we can all use to help the mission of conservation,” Raskin said.


Melanie Groves

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