On the impressively grand campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), located in Cambridge, there is an abundance of research taking place that most can’t even fathom. Somerville-based photographer Ian MacLellan has been working closely with MIT for over two years, capturing portraits of their various researchers, students, professors, and staff on campus for MIT’s homepage and news articles.
Back in 2015, another local photographer recommended Ian to MIT News’ Creative Director, Christine Daniloff, and her co-worker Jose-Luis Olivares. This would mark the beginning of a long-standing and ongoing relationship between Ian and MIT.
There is somebody at MIT interested in or researching almost anything you can think of! I’ve photographed people designing a new biomaterial to protect soldiers from blood loss, contemplating the philosophy of art, designing cyber defenses to protect our power system, working out ways to use technology and robotics to enhance live events like concerts, building a speedy robotic cheetah that can jump over obstacles, and an avid surfer who is using citizen science to solve problems.
The images aim to show diversity and to reveal each individual’s personality as well as show the beautiful campus. For each of these shoots, Ian spends time getting to know his subject and photographing the environment and architectural elements around them. The biggest challenge he faces is finding new ways to show off MIT’s campus.
The MIT campus feels like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory with amazing and innovative things happening behind every doorway. Before each shoot, I brainstorm with the subject and creative director to find locations on campus that best highlight the subject’s unique character. Sometimes a student will do ballet, or is a professional rock climber as well as a world class researcher, so we want to show that off. I’ve spent a lot of time wandering the campus and have kept a mental catalog of great portrait locations.
Each of the portraits needs to function as a homepage for MIT’s website, so Ian takes into consideration how the photo will work with text surrounding it and captures images that have the right space and color variety for the creative team.
The shoots are usually quick since his subjects are understandably busy and don’t have a lot of time. Over the years, Ian has pared down his equipment and now travels light – usually only carrying one lens, his Fuji GFX camera, and one or two lights. Since he needs to be adaptable to his subject’s schedules, he has gotten the experience of working in every type of lighting situation and has become a pro at devising quick solutions to these.
I’ll often meet the subject at my first idea for a location and then, while we are walking to the next one, we will stop a number of times when the light and environment line up just right, or the subject thinks of something else to show off.
Walking around MIT’s campus, Ian loves seeing his images displayed on the homepage of every computer and how people are interested in learning about what everyone else on campus is working on. These portrait projects have led him to shoot for other productions within the MIT community, and he hopes to continue this great working relationship.
I grew up going to the MIT museum and used to dream about building robots there, so it’s a childhood dream come true to photograph inside the lab spaces here.
See more of Ian at maclellanimages.com!