One of the more memorable personalities I've encountered while on the road is travel writer/neuroscientist Catherine Roscoe Barr, who I met when I was in Vancouver on assignment to photograph eagles in a little mountain town called Squamish. Her lifestyle blog The Life Delicious blends travel, fitness and wellness, all from the perspective of someone who understands the inner-workings of the mind on an expert level (she has a BSc in Neuroscience). In a word, she's awesome. A few weeks ago, she tweeted the following:
"When your mind is turbulent, your messenger molecules communicate turbulence to your cells, tissues and organs. If you can quiet your mind, you can send messages of peace and harmony to every cell in your body."
I get the part about turbulence (I think we all do) - but what kinds of sensory experiences cause 'messages of peace and harmony to send to every cell in your body'? The study of this type of brain activity is called neuroaesthetics: a sub-discipline of aesthetics that examines how our brain processes beauty (and is particularly focused on how the brain reacts to art and music). The essay below, written by Brita Larson, examines neuroaesthetics from the perspective of a photojournalist...like me!
Neuroaesthetics ties art with science
By: Brita Larson
Shiela Reaves’ office is exactly what you’d imagine a professor’s office to look like: cozily collegiate with books everywhere. There is an entire wall made up of bookshelves and there are stacks of books on the two desks in the office. When I mentioned to Reaves that I was interested in neuroaesthetics, the science of the visual brain, she began to whirl about her office, plucking books from piles and from the shelves.
Reaves is a professor in the Life Sciences Communication department. The beauty of the Life Sciences Communication faculty is that they dabble in many fields; in academic terms, they’re highly interdisciplinary. Reaves is no exception. Her academic research lies in a field called “neuroaesthetics.” Neuroaesthetics studies how our visual brain processes images, specifically art and photography.
But she certainly didn’t start there. Reaves began her career as a photojournalist after she discovered her passion for photography at the age of eighteen. When she was job-hunting after graduation, she had a fateful interview with Chuck Scott, the former director of photography at the Chicago Tribune. After their interview, he asked Reaves if she had any questions.
“I had won some awards and I knew what I was doing. But when I asked Chuck Scott, ‘What makes a good picture?’ he muttered for a while and then said, ‘Action and emotion.’ It was the best answer I’ve found. That really guided my career. It all boils down to action and emotion,” said Reaves.
Reaves eventually ended up at The Capital Times. “Ten years of photojournalism full time, but it was a wonderful way to spend your twenties. It’s very demanding, always looking for a parking spot under deadline and you can never plan your day because there might be a hostage shoot-out,” Reaves said. She saw the look of shock on my face. “No, that really happened.”
In those ten years, Reaves proved her abilities as a brilliant photographer. The photograph she took at the hostage shoot-out won her photo essay of the year. “I knew how to think about photos. Like, what makes a good picture, what kind of picture puts the reader in the situation?”
Click here to read the rest of the article.