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Satisfying Technique falls short of excellence

Technique 1993
385 pp.

By Deborah A. Levinson

Advisory Board

Asuccessful yearbook provides a unique balance between photography and feature journalism, chronicling the events of the past year with witty phrases and moving images. Posed photos of seniors sporting plastic grins must mesh seamlessly with color shots of the landscape, the classroom, and the lacrosse team.

This year's Technique comes close to achieving that balance, but ultimately falls a bit short. Not a lot, mind you -- there's more than enough written and pictorial information in the 1993 volume to satisfy -- but in enough small and significant ways that, if fixed, could bring it much closer to perfection.

First, let me applaud the long list of things that are right about Technique. The first two signatures are printed on a heavy, glossy stock that brings vibrancy to the duotones and four-color photos. Technique always cultivates the best photographers on campus, and this year's model is no exception. Page three showcases a moody photograph by Benson Wen '93 of a woman, starkly dressed in black and white, her face half-averted from the camera, her body leaning against the dusty rails of an old iron gate. Matthew D. Barnhart '94 captures eight shadowy birds roosting on an abandoned canoe, stranded mid-water.

The color photos are as well-composed as the black and whites. My favorites are a luscious picture of Boston at night by editor Stephen S. Hau '94 -- a neon blue and fuchsia sky breathes new life into what is otherwise a standard shot; and a close-up by Michael Mermelstein '94 of autumn leaves bedecked with dew, a single leaf at the center the color of a Red Delicious apple. The photo, run on a full page, would lose its impact at any smaller size.

Curiously, there are no images of MIT in the wintertime within the artsy first two signatures (unless the sun glinting off the Charles River shots on pages 26 and 27 is really icy glare). MIT acquires a certain beauty in the snow -- as well as a certain extra gloom in the beige concrete of the formidable main building -- and given Technique's ability to make shots of the same parts of Boston and campus look different almost every time, they surely could have done the same to the snow.

The first section after the opening signatures is the journal, a timeline stretching from February 1992 to February 1993. The timeline provides just about enough information to piece together the events of the past year, and black-and-whites fill in the holes. The timeline photos are well-chosen and give a clear summary of 1992, from Toni Morrison's electrifying Abramowitz lecture, to Aerosmith's funding of the Corporal Politics exhibit, to the final, chilling image of a young woman, her back to the camera, walking in the open space between Walker Memorial and Building 14. A copy of The Tech bearing the headline "Student Slain on Memorial Drive," with a grim photo of Yngve Raustein '94, tumbles in the wind along the concrete.

The "Life in Hell" section is particularly good this year, and features essays from five students and four professors. Perhaps the most poignant entry is an anonymous two paragraphs about the mixed elation and repulsion felt in receiving a brass rat. "It blows my mind to think I have two years left," writes the author. "I'm half done. I feel so old, yet I'm so young."

This section contains more candids than the earlier part of the book, and scores with Wen's magnified print of a woman's scream, Barnhart's man rubbing George Eastman's nose (does anyone still do that?), and another Wen photo, this one of a woman and her acoustic guitar, closely cropped so that only her torso frames the instrument.

Sports photos, though not my cup of tea, are generally composed well and show lots of action. The activities pictures are more innovative, as in a shot by Ivana Markovic '93 of three jugglers shot from the ground up, and a photo of a rock-climber suspended from an outcrop, shot by POR. (POR's full name does not appear in the credits, but I have my doubts as to his or her existence, given that the photo on the previous page is credited to HR* Grogo, Technique's gorilla mascot.)

Now for the criticism, and it is twofold. First, many photos are printed too dark. Technique has sacrificed levels of gray in favor of high contrast, but even the best-composed photo won't survive if too much of it is black, and not enough white.

Second, photos, like fine wines, need to breathe. I understand that Technique has literally thousands of photos from which to choose, but better to let a few good ones slip than to crowd too many too close. Why four photos butting together over the page 26-27 spread, with the Technicolor oranges of page 26 forced to battle the brilliant yellow and blue of page 27? Another spread, pages 22 and 23, shows that a one-pica (1/6 of an inch) border is simply inadequate between photos of this size and quality. With only a two-pica gutter running between the pages, the photos slide into the black hole of the binding. It's a picky point, but an important one given that Technique is meant not just as a record of 1992, but also as a work of art.

As yearbooks go, Technique has always provided an exemplary level of photography, news, and design. The 1993 edition carries on this grand tradition; it is a little blemished, but in the end, shines as clearly as the chapel moat on a summer day.