Left Brain Meets Right

Science photographer Felice Frankel donates architecture snaps to MIT

MIT researcher and photographer Felice Frankel donated her early architectural works to MIT's library, including some never before published images of buildings like the Salk Institute (Felice Frankel)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries received a gift of 600 photographs by Felice Frankel, the renowned artist and scientist. Currently a researcher in the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering, Frankel has published her stunning photographs widely, and her early images of iconic architecture and landscapes are now at home in “Dome,” the library’s digital database of images and media, as well as in a collection-specific digital venue, DSpace@MIT.

Photo of California Scenario, designed by Isamu Noguchi

California Scenario designed by Isamu Noguchi (Felice Frankel)

“Science has always been in my soul,” Frankel told The New York Times—she majored in biology and worked at a cancer research lab before her husband was sent to Vietnam. When he returned, he gave her a “good camera” as a present—Frankel emphasizes the “good.” With the tool in hand, Frankel discovered the power of photography when applied to learning and exploration. She doesn’t see her photographs as Art with a capital A—she sees her images as a learning tool, a way of documenting phenomena around her. Many of the photographs included in the new MIT collection are from a cross-country road trip, and many of her scientific images are aids for visual classroom learning, for use where an image is less intimidating than an equation.

Frankel began her professional engagement with photography working as a volunteer for a public television station, and shortly after for an architect. She soon decided to pursue landscape photography independently, producing images for magazines, and eventually in her own book, Modern Landscape Architecture: Redefining the Garden.

Many photos from this book are now being given a second life at MIT for direct student interaction both physically and digitally as individual elements. The photographs are discoveries Frankel wants to share with her students, and with the world.

While she has recently become well known for her scientific images of cells and other miniscule things, her images gracing the covers of scholarly journals like Science, she sees a connection between the newer content and the recently gifted collection of her built environments. She says, “It’s all about capturing structured information.”

Photo of the Salk Institute

The Salk Institute (Courtesy Felice Frankel)

Engaging with famous pieces of architecture like Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute and sculptural elements like Lawrence Halprin’s Ira Keller Fountain, Frankel fully explores her unique sense of composition. Without needing to rely on human subjects to get a great photograph, the buildings and landscapes are studies in mass, light, and color.

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