Stefan Petranek, assistant professor of photography and intermedia at IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design, has taken an unusual approach to collecting people’s thoughts on science. With a marker and poster board in hand, Petranek asks individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds to consider “how the future will be affected by genetic research.” He then photographs his volunteers holding their message. In the last four years, Petranek has photographed over 400 individuals creating a noteworthy catalogue of responses that reflect the diversity of ethical concerns and technological promise this expansive field of science offers society.
As researchers’ ability to manipulate DNA for a wide array of biological issues, from human health to agricultural production advance, the influence of DNA-based technologies on our daily lives has grown exponentially. Yet there is little research which tracks Americans’ perceptions of these technologies. The Genetic Portrait Project grew out of Petranek’s ongoing artwork about the pyscho-social implications of a genetically advanced world and his interest in how others were grappling with the same issues. The project represents the first-ever visual documentary of individuals’ perceptions on science.
Petranek has photographed several high profile individuals for the project including Dr. Eric Green, Director of the National Human Genomic Research Institute at NIH, and internationally known artist, Mark Dion. He has also photographed individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including soliciting people off the streets from cities like Indianapolis, Boston, and Portland, OR to participate. Recently, Petranek has focused on creating interactive initiatives at genetic and bioethics conferences. In 2014, he photographed attendees at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Annual Meeting, the world’s largest genetics conference. His photographs have been exhibited nationally and were recently published in Frontline Genomic Magazine’s March issue. To see more portraits you can visit Petranek’s website and the Project’s Facebook page.
In the near future, Petranek plans to create a website that will allow people to participate autonomously, creating an international repository of photographic portraits dedicated to documenting thoughts on genetics at this moment in history.