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Technique 1991 flawed, but a worthy keepsake

TECHNIQUE 1991

Judith L. Yanowitz '91, editor in chief.

By PRABHAT MEHTA

THIS YEAR'S TECHNIQUE CONFIRMS that 1989's disastrous edition was but an anomaly. The yearbook is perhaps the last remnant of the Institute many of us will hold on to. Technique 1991, though flawed, will be a worthy keepsake. It is impressive in size and quality, if not in completeness.

The technical quality of the photographs is for the most part superb, though the staff's selection leaves something to be desired. One receives the impression that coherence is given low, if any, priority. This problem is particularly acute in the duotones in the first few pages. While the extra color (a light purple) creates a unifying mood, the pictures stray from the traditional MIT-Cambridge-Boston shots. There are several shots at the coast, as well as one of some unidentifiable tree and one of a desert (or is it the beach?). Though all of high caliber -- the tree shot is especially good -- these photographs appear out of place. If there is some sort of grander theme to this section, I missed it.

The photo essay titled "Doors and Windows," with only a few exceptions, contains very interesting, highly imaginative photographs. Blatantly problematic with this section is its waste of space. Most of the pages in this essay contain one or two small photographs against an overwhelming sea of white space. This has obviously been done to create an artistic impression -- sometimes of solitude, at other times of smallness -- but this interest sometimes overshadows the yearbook's larger mission to convey a sense of the past year for the students who passed through MIT at the time. In addition, this 10-page essay is marred by two pages (66 and 67) that contain photos of exceptionally poor quality.

The black-and-white and color photographs at the end of the book by and large reaffirm the skill of the Technique photo staff. Particularly impressive among the color photos are the shots of the Boston skyline, the oblique view of Building 66, the two staircase shots, and the rather seductive shot of the "city at night," as seen from beneath the Citgo sign.

It is gratifying to note that this year's edition includes the journal, which was unfortunately omitted from the 1989 edition. The events listed present a more or less complete picture of life at the Institute and in the real world over the past year.

One problem which begins here and which continues through the rest of the prose concerns the general lack of editing and proofreading. Grammatical errors and typos abound. The Oct. 8 journal entry, for instance, reads, "Israel kills 19 Palestinians." While it may in certain instances behoove a writer to personify a nation, it is inappropriate to describe the state of Israel as the culprit in the deaths of the 19 Palestinians on Oct. 8, 1990. And it is inexcusable to let such errors pass in a book that will be kept and referred to many times by graduating seniors.

This year's edition also includes four essays, written by members of the Class of 1991, describing "the MIT experience." Recent editions have occasionally contained such essays, but it seems most have been written by faculty. Technique's editors were right in giving students a greater chance to express their individuality in a forum larger than the senior quotes placed among the senior portraits. At the same time, they should have tried to make the essays representative of the MIT undergraduate community. Two of the four essays are written by creative writing majors -- a department composed of fewer than 10 full majors! One of the other two "can't decide whether to major in literature or civil engineering," and the fourth is a senior who will be studying Shakespeare next year in graduate school. Furthermore, of the four, at least two are not graduating on time.

While it is necessary to include refreshing alternatives to the standard fare at the Institute, this group ends up giving the erroneous impression that MIT is filled with disaffected poets and authors. Some of us can be happy without majoring in English.

Here again, proofreading was unfortunately sacrificed. The essay by Deborah A. Levinson '91, for instance, contains at least three obvious typos. Take, for instance, the second sentence, which begins: "The author, a freshman planning on majoring in creative writing major. . . ." Even if this mistake had appeared in Levinson's original draft, the editors should have easily been able to find it.

Team rosters are left out of the "Sports and Activities" section. Instead, photos surrounded by large fields of white were selected to represent the wide array of athletic teams fielded at MIT. I miss the rosters. They are desirable, if only to acknowledge the surprising amount of participation in varsity and club athletics at a school that does not recruit players for a single team. The rosters could have easily fit in the white spaces, and would have given students an added reason to look back at their copy of Technique.

Living-group photos are done well, and identification of individuals is once again facilitated with a numbered outline of each photograph. In addition to the obligatory naked frat shots, notables on these pages include Tau Epsilon Pi's "last supper" and the three group shots -- of Alpha Tau Omega, McCormick Third East and New House Four -- taken at nighttime from roofs.

The senior portraits seem fine, though given the vast fields of white space on each page, it seems as if they could have been larger. Also, some of the other, random photographs on these pages appear out of place and at times distasteful. The mean-spirited woman on page 224 and the protester on page 285 are but two examples of poorly selected photos in this section.

Finally, our new president, Charles M. Vest, is only mentioned in the journal. It would have been nice for the Technique staff to have devoted a couple of pages to President Vest. These pages could have looked like last year's tribute to then outgoing President Paul E. Gray '54. That tribute contained some original photographs and a short essay written by Gray.

These particular criticisms are on the whole meant to be constructive. The basics of Technique have, for years (1989 excluded), been sound. What is offered is humble advice for change. The hope is that future classes may extract even greater pleasure from their yearbooks than this graduating class will most certainly take from Technique 1991.