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ESG students display autobiographical projects

Mechanical engineering senior Gabriel Blanton created "You Are What You Eat" as part of the Experimental Study Group seminar "Composing a Life."
Mechanical engineering senior Gabriel Blanton created "You Are What You Eat" as part of the Experimental Study Group seminar "Composing a Life."
Image courtesy / GABRIEL BLANTON

An exhibition of student "life albums"--personal multimedia narratives--will culminate in a reception and presentation by the autobiographers on Friday, April 30 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Jerome Wiesner Student Art Gallery in the Student Center.

The exhibits will show just a few pages from the students' book-length albums composed of photography, drawing, hand-written text and "found materials" including cardboard, plastic, cork and hockey-stick tape.

The albums and displays reflect how significant events, affections and even dreams change over time as one's sense of self develops. Students explored contemporary self-portraiture or placed themselves in other historical or social settings, such as among Jews during the Holocaust or among the homeless in Boston.

The exhibition reflects the final phase of an Experimental Study Group (ESG) undergraduate seminar, "Composing a Life: An Exploration of Self Through Photography, Art and the Written Word." The seminar was taught by photographer and composer Graham Ramsay and ESG associate director Holly Sweet, who is also a psychologist in private practice and co-director of the Cambridge Center for Gender Relations.

The nine students who participated in "Composing a Life" come from diverse backgrounds--countries include Mexico, Colombia and Russia, and interests include science, engineering and management. Together they created their own autobiographies, photographed themselves without showing their faces and wrote sample resumes for themselves at age 40.

"Composing a Life" is one of 11 ESG undergraduate seminars offered this term. Open to all students at MIT, the seminars include "The Art of Color," "Images of Love in International Film," "Kitchen Chemistry," "Japanese Animation," "Gender Issues in Academia," "The Search for Self," and "Integrating Anthropology and Technology."

The seminar series began in 1985 under the guidance of Dean for Undergraduate Research Kim Vandiver, then director of ESG. The seminars are designed and run by both staff and upperclassmen, and are funded by ESG alumni and a grant from Sandia Labs. For more information, see

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 28, 2004.

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