Skip to content ↓

MIT professor exhibits photos in Compton Gallery

How do we read a landscape and what does it tell us? "Knowing Where to Stand: Photographs by Anne Whiston Spirn," an exhibition of 45 color works which explore these questions, is on view at the Compton Gallery (Room 10-150) through Jan. 30.

Professor Spirn, who has been at MIT since 2000 and has joint appointments in the departments of Urban Studies and Planning and Architecture, uses photography as a form of language, leading viewers to read landscapes more deeply to decipher their meanings and tell their stories.

"Photography is to seeing what poetry is to writing: a way of thinking, a disciplined practice that produces insight, a condensed telling," she writes in her comments accompanying the exhibition. "Deciding where to point the camera, where to stand, I choose subject and stance."

The exhibit is drawn from "The Eye is a Door," Spirn's forthcoming book.

Spirn, professor of landscape architecture and planning, calls landscape a "kind of language born out of living. Knowing the language of landscape, one can read a forest, field, town and city like a text and tell the stories of their making and becoming. One can read the world not as separate things but as dynamic associations."

An award-winning author and distinguished landscape architect, scholar, educator and activist, Spirn was awarded the International Cosmos Prize in 2001 for research contributing to the "harmonious co-existence of nature and mankind." She was the youngest person, first woman and the first designer/planner to win the award.

Since 1984, Spirn has worked in inner-city neighborhoods on landscape planning and community design and development. She is director of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, a program that integrates teaching, research and community service that was cited as a model project by the White House Millennium Council in 1999.

"Knowing Where to Stand" is complemented by a web site ( with additional information, including a link to Spirn's MIT class "Site in Sight: Photography as Inquiry," where visitors can see students' work from past years and follow current students' work-in-progress.

The Compton Gallery is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 253-4444 or see

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 2003.

Related Topics

More MIT News

Wind turbines on the top of a hill

A healthy wind

Health benefits of using wind energy instead of fossil fuels could quadruple if the most polluting power plants are selected for dialing down, new study finds.

Read full story