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Plenty of thrills without frills in this year's Technique

Technique 1994

Doris L. Lee '94, Editor-in-Chief.

Wilfredo Sanchez, Jr. '94, Photography Editor.

384 pp.

By Ann Ames
Arts Editor

In past years, I have looked at the yearbook solely out of vanity; I wanted to see myself and my friends, perhaps to feel that we have somehow been immortalized in print, but probably just for the momentary thrill of looking at published pictures, complimentary or otherwise, of people I know. Sure, I read many of the quotes, but only to see what horrible things people could say about MIT.

This year I found myself in a very different position. I haven't taken classes for a year, most of my friends have already graduated, and I probably would not have paid any attention at all to Technique had I not been asked to review it. So instead of passing a quick glance through the pages and being done with it, for the first time I have had to pay attention to details that I would never have cared to notice otherwise. What I found was a little surprising, for both positive and negative reasons.

There are seven titled sections to the book, as well as an extensive opening photo collection. Each section is heralded by a subtitle page facing an essay. These essays range in style from a recap of the year for the "Athletics" section to a fictitious electronic mail message, complete with Athena headers, from a character by the username of "misery" for "Life in Hell." With the exception of the latter, all of these examples of prose are thoughtful and intriguing, and some border on the poetically philosophical, such as Jason K. Bucy's '96 line, from the beginning of the "Living Groups" section, in which he informs his readers that "I sleep in a loft made from timbers of a barn built before I was born."

The journal section provides a fairly thorough reflection on the events of the past year, chronologically linking MIT news to that of the rest of the world, and bits of world news to each other. Sometimes this brings humorous results, as on October 4, when the first entry for the day announces "The Pope issues an encyclical, entitled The Splendor of Truth,' aimed at taking a firm stand on moral issues." Immediately following this, on the same day, we are informed that "Former Catholic priest James A. Porter pleads guilty to molesting dozens of young people 30 years ago. In December he is sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison."

Some of the entries are also documented photographically, and emphasis is placed on these bits of news by setting them in a larger font size and bordering them on top and bottom with bold black lines. If everything were perfect in the photo-entry pairings, this would have been an effective and clever method of captioning the pictures. Unfortunately, the link between photo and "caption" is not always clear, nor do the two things always occur on the same open pages; it may be necessary to turn a page to find out where a certain photo came from or why a news entry deserves more attention than others on the page. Indeed, this last question is often not clarified by the photo, as in the case of the May 11 entry, "SCC sponsors a free concert, featuring Cliffs of Dooneen, on the steps of the Student Center." Yes, this is interesting, but hardly more important than an entry in standard format on the same page which states that "Five students are caught allegedly in the act of stealing $20,000 in computer equipment from an Athena cluster in Building 52."

Simplicity, overall, is the true beauty of this book. Text is text, and photos are photos, and never the twain shall meet. Initials printed at the bottom of each page signify the title of the section in which the page falls, seeming almost to have been placed there in order to keep the lonely page numbers company. It is a small detail, but that much more elegant for the simple, unobtrusive way in which it adorns the page. There are no "artsy" graphics cluttering up Technique's space with unnecessary flourishes. The photography and brief prose are allowed to speak for themselves.

Most of what they have to say is good. One of the more lucid statements is a photo of Building 4, taken from Killian Court by Yueh Z. Lee '95. Full of angles and contrasts, the picture at first glance is relentlessly dominated by the building, which seems to jut out of the page, looming huge and intimidating over the tree and sculpture nearby. But should your eyes happen to catch the figure seated at the bottom left of the photo, reclining against the building's monstrous pillar, suddenly all attention is diverted in there to that tiny speck of humanity, the only one in the photo. This man takes on almost an heroic stature, resting so casually beside the imposing face of MIT's main building. Then, when you manage to tear your gaze from him, perhaps you'll be drawn to notice the incredibly subtle, yet totally obvious, shadow thrown on the building by the flag flying high on its pole, waving in the breeze.

But the most gripping photograph in the book is of Christina Park, a vibrant young woman tragically killed in a plane crash earlier this year. The picture, taken by Stephen S. Hau '94, shows Christina on a balcony of the church at Copley Square, looking back over her left shoulder at some person or object unidentified in the photograph, but replaced in Technique by a picture of the Senior House on the facing page. Wilfredo Sanchez, Jr. '94 took this photograph from above the yard, and the combined effect of the two pictures makes it appear that Christina is looking at once back at her home, and yet beyond the commotion of the courtyard festivities. The photo of Christina is charming; its placement is intelligent, poignant, more heart-warming than heart-breaking. It is a fitting tribute to a woman so full of life.

This single photographic moment makes the book a success in my eyes, but I have to admit to a biased opinion. Imagining for a moment that this pair of pictures does not exist, there are plenty of other merits to the book. Some have already been mentioned. There is also the collection of color skyline photos that has come to be expected in Technique. The two-page spread, by Eric G. Scharin G, of a fiery pre-dawn sky reflected in the glassy Charles River is particularly brilliant.

The book's strengths are bold and obvious. To find its weaknesses you have to look closer than most people probably ever will.