Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 19, 2006|Volume 34, Number 29|Three-Week Issue















Chemical engineering student Weiwei Gao became interested in photography after taking a scuba diving course. Pictured here is his "Coral Reef - Key Largo, FL."

Student photographs 'hidden
beauty in everyday life'

Whether photographing a fast-moving school of fish in the ocean, the face of a swan as a bead of water glides down its beak or an insect atop the spiraling leaves of a squash plant, Weiwei Gao searches to capture extraordinary moments in otherwise ordinary sights.

Gao, who will earn his Ph.D. in chemical engineering this month, is captivated by the natural world, and he has spent much of his free time over the past several years taking pictures as he has traveled around New Haven or to East Coast destinations further afield, from Maine to Florida, doing much of his work underwater.

His images will be featured in the exhibition "Close Ups In Nature," which will be on view Friday-Sunday, May 19-21, in the lobby of Mason Laboratory, 9 Hillhouse Ave.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Gao will present a slideshow of his photographs and talk about his work on Saturday, May 20, at 2 p.m. in Davies Auditorium of Becton Center, 15 Prospect St. He will also screen the 12-minute video "Ocean Requiem" from the high-definition underwater film library of Howard and Michele Hall. Gao and his frequent scuba diving partner, Chi Zhang, will also answer questions from audience members about scuba diving and photography.

In this photograph, titled "Play Buddies,"
Weiwei Gao captured two bugs on the leaf
of a squash plant in New Haven's Edgerton Park.

Gao, who hails from China, first became interested in photography in 2003 after taking his first scuba diving course, taught by staff from the Essex-based Diver's Cove at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. While pursuing his interest in this new hobby, he met scuba divers who took underwater photographs, and Gao became determined to create his own images of the marine scenes he witnessed.

"I worked hard to save up some money for scuba gear and camera equipment," says the graduate student, who taught himself how to use his digital Canon 300D camera and the underwater housing for it.

Gao took his earliest underwater photos while scuba diving off the New England coast, considered one of the harshest areas for diving. He later traveled to warmer locales, taking pictures in such areas as the legendary "Graveyard of the Atlantic" off the North Carolina coast (so-called for its high incidence of shipwrecks) and in the Florida Keys.

While in New Haven, where he has been studying material science, Gao also photographed landscapes and other natural scenes. His exhibit includes colorful close-ups of a hummingbird, a butterfly perched atop a flower, a praying mantis, a bee and various flowers, as well as his marine-related photos of sea anemones, a manatee, a sea turtle, coral reefs and other marine life. Some of his photographs have been recognized with special awards.

"When people see my photographs, a lot of them are surprised that so many were taken right here in New Haven," says Gao, who has done much of his photographic work at East Rock and Edgerton parks. "I didn't have the money or the time to travel a lot, so I did a lot of my work not far from the Yale campus. I am the proudest of the pictures that I took locally. You don't have to go to fancy places to see beautiful things."

Gao, who is now doing postdoctoral research at Harvard University, says that his photographic work is somewhat akin to his scientific pursuits.

"I study how chemical reactions occur on the surface of materials," he says of his research. "In my photos, I capture the seemingly hidden beauty in everyday life."

This sea turtle was photographed
in West Palm Beach, Florida.

On his website, Gao features a quote from Jewish rabbi Harold Kushner, who remarked, "When your life is filled with the desire to see the holiness in everyday life, something magical happens ... ordinary life becomes extraordinary and the very process nourishes your soul."

"Close Ups in Nature" is sponsored by the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale and the Faculty of Engineering. Gao says that he could not have acquired his photographic skill without the support of his faculty adviser, Eric Altman, professor of chemical engineering.

"I have realized that what you learn from your adviser is not just the scientific techniques but also the passion to do the science -- how to overcome challenges and make what you dreamed of," notes Gao. He says he is also grateful for having the opportunity to learn scuba diving from Ed Rosacker and Don Roche, instructors for Diver's Cove, who also encouraged him in his photography. "The most important thing I learned from them," says Gao, "is the positive attitude to pursue everyday life."

His six-year course of study at Yale, the soon-to-be-graduate says, was the realization of his childhood dream. He recalls that Yale was the only university mentioned in one of his early Chinese textbooks, which described how Zhan Tianyou (1861-1919), who made the first railroad in China, studied engineering at the University.

"Having this exhibition of my photographs around Commencement is a nice way for me to end my time at Yale," says Gao.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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Yale to celebrate 305th Commencement

Student photographs 'hidden beauty in everyday life'

Summertime at Yale

Brownell cited as one of world's '100 most influential people'

President Levin honored for increasing town-gown partnerships


Four individuals will bring their expertise . . . to SOM

Two noted violinists . . . join the faculty of the School of Music

Three residential college masters named to second term
Laura Cruickshank named to post of University planner

Exhibit features English silver pieces once owned by tsars

Exhibits look back at 40 years of chiming bells and more

Major renovation effort begins at Cross Campus Librar


Eight graduating seniors are bound for China as teaching fellows


Yale's nurse-midwives celebrate 50 years of community care

Talk will focus on life extension and human right

'Keepers of the Dream' to look at advancing urban education

Sociologist Adams honored for book on 'The Familial State'

Association honors Yale-affiliated scientists and engineers . . .

Journal of Industrial Ecology marks two milestones . . .

Grant will fund research on how human speech is shaped

'Trouble in Tahiti' to be performed during School of Music alumni weekend

Campaign invites community to 'Plant a Row for the Hungry'

Campus Notes

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