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Column Portraits Add Necessary Latch

Column by A. Arif Husain

Many years ago I was told that a picture is worth a thousand words. Nonetheless, I pursued writing. Photography somehow lacked the same appeal, the same control, and the same creative space. Silly me.

Today I recognize a synergy of text and photography, rooted in the small hatched portrait that appears with this column. Unlike the many photographs that adorn the other pages of The Tech, the portrait above neither presents newsworthy information nor captures a moment in time. Instead, the electronically-filtered image above stands only to show you, the reader, the face associated with these inches of newsprint characters.

It was nearly 116 years in the life of this publication before such a window into the lives of its columnists was opened, so I must admit that the decision was not without discretion.

In my past five, or so, years as an on-and-off opinion writer, I have been greeted with a wide range of reaction to my writings. From disgust to reverence to vehement ambivalence, I have joined in a sort of signal-feedback loop with the bolder of my anonymous audience who would allow their thoughts to appear in print. My opinions, along with those of my colleagues, aimed to garnish factual servings of news with human interest.

But something is lacking in a string of commentaries. In the world of news, independent stories tie together as threads in the fabric of a common society; local, national, or global. The day-to-day vacillations of reported living are not tethered to a problem of continuity or understanding. We live in a common world and can follow the progression of common issues.

Opinions are very different. A person always exists in his own world, fashioned with varying amounts of influence from that external world in which he resides. The only persistent force that remains between the zig-zag pennings of an opinion columnist is the columnist, the person - the flesh beyond the page. Without this tie, a column stands as a single disjointed report, and the puzzle into which it fits is left completely out of reach.

And so, we wondered, as the Opinion Department of MIT's Oldest and Largest Newspaper: "Isn't it about time that we give our audience a hand?" Without a doubt - but nobody would recognize an author's hand. So we decided on using the face.

The image next to this text, in this case, is me, A. Arif Husain '97. For another column, it might be Thomas R. Karlo '97, or Brett Altschul '99, or Anders Hove G. Or whoever else decides to commit to public speech. The point is, each of us maintains a body of convictions that intersects with the MIT community only with every odd issue of The Tech and marked only by the few letters that make up our names. We can hardly expect even the most avid reader to discern our distinctions, our ideals, and our prescriptions of truth. After today, this will be no longer.

As social beings, we have the amazing ability to recognize faces and to make nearly unlimited associations with them. This fact is the basis of the headshots you now see on this page.

Whether the photo will add to the coherence of our columnists remains to be seen. Whether it will benefit the understanding of their ideas is equally unclear. Regardless, the text and the photo are both derivatives of a single person and act together like two hands of a clock to fully represent the message at hand. We hope that giving our columnists an extra datum for recognition will give their respective readerships more to latch on to. Only time will tell.

Personally speaking, I see my photo as a key that will unlock the reactionary floodgates of The Tech's readership. No longer just ink on a page, my words will meld with my image, to bolster support and fortify opposition; to uplift and to anger; to satisfy and to sicken. My columns will take on new meaning to many, and these oft-dormant opinion pages will now blaze with the fiery passion of human spirit.

A. Arif Husain, a senior in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, hopes that his photograph will never be admitted as evidence in a court of law.