Monthly Archives: October 2017

Kevin Scott’s “Behind the Tech”

In his photographic project “Behind the Tech,” Kevin Scott portrays the “relatively unknown” technologists who “make our modern lives possible.” “The Behind the Tech project’s singular purpose is to acknowledge the makers of technology and what they do.”

What is the genesis of your project? I read that you started by photographing a number of women with whom you have worked over the years? What was the seed? How has the project expanded?

With Behind the Tech, I had been thinking for a while about how important role models are for us as we imagine what we could be in the future. Role models have always been important to me. Just seeing someone who at some point was like me, who could do something I thought was hard or impossible, always gives me hope that I could do that thing too. For little kids in particular, technology can be this very abstract thing, but showing them that there are folks who look like them, who make the technology that they use, I think is a very powerful thing. But when you think about the people in tech who we celebrate, whose faces are well known, they are interesting, but not representative of the faces actually behind the technology. I wanted to do something that showed the diverse faces, and that shared the diverse stories of the folks who I see on a day-to-day basis trying to make the world a little bit better with technology. And by doing so, I hope that I can help a few people find role models, inspiration, and their own path to a better future.

I started Behind the Tech in July of 2016. I had a free chunk of time for the first time in a decade, and I decided that I was going to start by asking a bunch of folks I knew if they would sit for a portrait for this project. I then asked the AnitaB.org Institute, which runs the Grace Hopper Celebration, if I could set up a temporary portrait studio on the GHC exhibition floor to do some portrait sittings for conference attendees. After that I had a pretty long list of folks to photograph. I contracted with a recent Stanford Classics Ph.D. graduate to help write some of the profiles. Now that we’ve got a bunch of interesting content, we’re starting to try to promote the project a bit.

How did you decide on your lens and lighting choices for this project? Why did you choose to shoot it in black and white? Are there any photographers from whom you got inspiration for those choices? How would you say it differs from your usual shooting choices?

There are a bunch of portrait photographers I admire. Arnold Newman, Peter Lindbergh, and Platon might be my three favorites. I love how Newman was able to use environment in this incredibly graphical way in his portraits. Lindbergh is a genius at getting people to relax, and I love how organic and natural all of his portraits seem. And Platon is my favorite photographer. He uses the face and the human body in such strikingly graphical ways.

I think that a lot of my shooting choices are influenced by these three. I always shoot black and white to accentuate the graphical nature of face and form. I tend to favor lighting and processing that creates contrast, again to try to give portraits a graphical quality. But I also try really hard to capture the subject as they are, not an idea of who they should be, which means no hair and makeup, no major retouching, and spending a lot of time getting the subject comfortable before and during shooting.

These photos were shot with a 120mm macro lens on a Phase One Medium format camera. It’s a brilliantly sharp lens that allows for close focus, and a comfortable space between me and the subject. I had a couple of lighting setups, although I almost always try to shoot with one light. The setup I used most often was an Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa modifier positioned above and angled down toward the subject, just out of the shot.

You are said to speak to your subjects as you photograph them. How much of that is your interest in them as technologists, and how much of that is your way of working as a photographer (making them feel at ease)?

It’s both. I always chat with my subjects as I’m photographing them to try to capture glimpses of their real selves, not a conception of how I think they should look. When I set up I’ll frame the subject, then move out from behind the camera, and chat with them while I’m firing shots with a remote trigger. Every 10 frames or so I’ll recheck framing and focus and continue this way until I think we’re done with whatever conversation that we’re having. Keeping them focused on me rather than the camera has made my portraiture a lot better, IMO. And on top of that, I’m genuinely interested in everyone I photograph. I wouldn’t photograph them if I weren’t interested in learning more about them.

What kind of technical training have you had as a photographer, and what have you taught yourself along the way?

I’ve done some workshops [Ralph Gibson] and online courses over the years, but most of what I’ve learned has been through reading, talking with photographers when I get the chance, looking at a lot of photography and trying to imagine how photographers made the images that I admired, and then a lot of trial and error.

Which documentaries have been influential on you?

In terms of documentaries, the Salgado biopic “Salt of the Earth” was really influential, as was “Finding Vivian Maier,” “Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light,” and “Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens.”

It is interesting that one of your motivations to do “Behind the Tech” is because you wanted to highlight people in technology whom you believe deserve more attention, especially when Platon, of your inspirations, is known for a project like “Power: Portraits of World Leaders.” Platon has said that one of the reasons why he chooses the lighting he does is due to the limits of time he has with his subjects. Similarly, you have had short periods of time with some of your subjects, for instance, when you caught some of them during the Grace Hopper Celebration. Beyond that practical consideration, though, why do you like, what you called the “strikingly graphical” approach of Platon?

I really admire Platon for a bunch of reasons. The portraits themselves are striking: the contrast; the posing; the interesting use of perspective; the things that he does with hands. I’m a big fan of the work that he does with Human Rights Watch and in furtherance of human rights in general. The work that he’s done with Dr. Denis Mukwege and Panzi Hospital in the Congo is heartbreaking and a powerful call to action for all of us.

On lighting, I wonder if Platon’s choices were of necessity in the beginning, and are now his preference because of the simple beauty of single-light setups. In the Netflix documentary of his work, Abstract: The Art of Design, he was shooting a portrait of Colin Powell in his studio in New York City, where he could have used any setup he liked, and was using the same black backdrop and overhead, shoot-through umbrella keylight that he seems to use so often. I definitely feel that affinity with my single-light setup, even when I am in the studio with every tool imaginable at my disposal it’s the thing I most often go to.

Platon and Lindbergh both often seem to work fairly tightly in their portraiture, choosing to focus on face and posture to convey character. Lindbergh backs out sometimes to show some scene, though it often seems to be as a way of accenting the person he is portraying rather than conveying anything thematically. However, you said you also like the way that Arnold Newman uses the environments of his subjects when he portrays them. Any favorite Newman works? And in what ways might we see the influence of Newman’s approach in this project, or in your future work?

Newman’s portrait of Stravinsky at his piano is one of my absolute favorite pieces of art. I don’t know that I’m so much influenced by Newman as inspired by him. I’ve tried to shoot environmental portraits before and can’t even begin to approach his genius in getting subject and environment to reinforce and complement one other. Whenever I try, the background invariably distracts from the individual. But I’m going to keep trying. I love this idea that a portrait can be a bit of a self-contained biography of a subject, and that subject accompanied by environment might make you ask a different set of questions about an image.

Besides your motivation to do this “Behind the Tech” project, how else has your background in technology [Scott is the Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft] informed and colored your choices as a photographer? In what ways, if any, for instance, does it make you a more technically-inclined photographer, and how has that both helped and hindered your photography? You mentioned that you like to shoot subjects whom you like or admire, but how else do you make sure to overcome the “gadget (camera) freak” mentality of some technologists to properly focus on your subjects?

I think that having a background in math and physics and engineering has helped with thinking about the tools and technical bits of photography as a system, and for me at least has made it quick to ramp up on new things and understand how things work. Which is great because honestly I want all of the technical bits to disappear into the background and to be able to focus my attention on the subject. One of the reasons that I do photography is for the conversation with the subject, thinking about a composition, visualizing the image I would like to capture without having my eye at a viewfinder, all of that is like a release from the technical stuff that I do for my day job.

I haven’t always been this zen. Focusing too much on gadgets and gear has definitely been a distraction in the past. I still enjoy the tools of photography. But, I was in a workshop with Ralph Gibson once and just blown away by what he was able to do with a Leica M, a 50mm lens, natural light, and his eye. And if you look at the amazing images that my three photography heroes make, it’s not because they are shooting with peak technology and complex setups. I think that for some folks, perhaps especially techies, it’s hard getting to the point where you understand that you, not your gear, is the most significant factor in making an image. In a way it makes you very vulnerable. But if you can’t get past it, you will always be focused on the wrong thing. (No pun intended.)

Why are you drawn to portraiture?

Among Arnold Newman, Peter Lindbergh, and Platon’s works, are there specific images that stand out for as inspirations and/or for your admiration and why?

Newman’s Stravinsky portraits, his portrait of Kurt Goedel, and the one of Leonard Bernstein I think are really amazing. The Stravinsky and Goedel portraits are spare, beautifully composed, with both of these geniuses sitting with the instrument of their art: Stravinsky at the piano where he would compose; Goedel in front of a literal blank slate where he might prove his next great theorem. The Bernstein portrait begs so many questions. What is Bernstein thinking? He’s perhaps known most for his conducting, but it’s just him, a score, and empty orchestra in the image. Is that a reflection on his disappointment that he wasn’t better known for his work as a composer? It just seems to capture something about Bernstein’s inner conflict that we know from the historical record was a real thing.

I love so much of Peter Lindbergh’s work. His 2017 Pirelli Calendar is really great in my opinion. I’m not a huge fan of the Pirelli Calendar in general, but Lindbergh’s 2017 I think is really powerful, and shows these rare glimpses of these celebrated women with little or no makeup, no retouching, no ridiculous wardrobe. They are just themselves, and for many of them, who have been photographed countless times, these are my favorite portrayals of them in portraiture.

I’ve already talked a bit about Platon, but some of my specific favorite portraits are the one of Willie Nelson hugging his guitar, the one of the mother at the grave of her son, a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq, the one of Jon Snowden with the US Flag, and the one of Sylvester Stallone smoking the cigar. The images of the grieving mother and of Snowden with the flag are just extremely well-done images of the juxtaposition of extremely emotional elements, and are obviously intended to provoke a strong emotion in the viewer. The other two are harder to explain, but both in addition to their technical qualities which I think are remarkable, also convey this sense of raw emotion.

 

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Cindy Chin Interview

Cindy Chin: Interview

Cindy Chin is CEO and founder of CLC Advisors. Cindy is an advisor to several startups. She is a member of NASA’s 2016 Datanauts class, one of NASA’s Women in Data open innovation program initiatives. She is a former consultant for McKinsey & Company, Coopers & Lybrand, LLC (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and Strategic Hotels & Resorts.

From when and where does your interest in technology stem?

My interest in technology actually began at home. Both my parents worked in semiconductors and telecommunications. As a child, I got to witness the birth of the Internet and navigate it at its introduction into the marketplace. I remember a time when there were very few web pages, and it’s been exciting to see how technology has grown and the various cycles it has undergone.

Who are your favorite science and science fiction writers, and why?

I used to love C.S. Lewis as a kid. Then I graduated to J.R.R. Tolkien, whose writings are still relevant today. I feel like every time you re-read his books in the context of life experience and different stages of your life, you learn something completely new. Or at least your understanding of life and its placement in time.

I am also a Dan Brown fan. He puts adventure into his fiction, which can sometimes be construed as science fiction because of his use of time in the stories. History, religion, and science are deeply intertwined, and he has a way of writing relevant big human challenges into his narratives.

Again, I want to revisit Douglas Adams, Stephen Hawking, some of Brian Cox‘s books, and a few other scientists. Also, non-scientists, including Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto on Industrial Society and Its Future. He was also known as the Unabomber but apparently he wrote this wild manifesto about the dangers and consequences of technology and mobile phones on the human race, relevant topic matters today. I am not condoning the hurt and actions of what he did to lead to the ending of human life, but understanding the psychology is of great interest. It’s only 33 pages.

Why your interest in space exploration?

Interest in space exploration began when I was a girl—and from the books I read. I used to sketch the schematics of the Space Shuttle, and my Dad and I would have conversations about astronomy, quantum physics and all things related to the universe.

As an adult, the interest and passion was reintroduced by an invitation from NASA during its transition and [the] end of the 35-year Space Shuttle program. I was invited to join NASA Social in the Mojave Desert in Southern California at NASA Armstrong Flight Space Center (known as NASA Dryden at the time) at Edwards Air Force Base on the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavor from Kennedy Space Center to California. It started with that, then the Space Shuttle Atlantis transition at Kennedy Space Center and several other NASA Social events.

Currently, I am a member of the NASA’s open data initiative called NASA Datanauts that operates out of the office of NASA’s CIO [Chief Information Officer.]. The initiative is to encourage the education and exploration of data science through the use of NASA’s 32,000+ open datasets.

How did you become involved in NASA Datanauts, and why do you remain involved?

I learned about the NASA Datanauts after hearing about them during the White House State of Women Summit that First Lady at the time Michelle Obama hosted. I had read about the panel of women in STEM, which included NASA’s Beth Beck, who works out of the NASA CIO’s Office. I thought about the need of women in tech, but in particular data science and coding. My daughter codes at school, and I thought that if I wanted to continue to keep up with her and her education, I should learn coding. She’s a huge inspiration for me.

I recently gave a presentation about the future of space travel with NASA Johnson’s Chief Knowledge Architect David Meza on board a Lufthansa 747 flight [Lufthansa Flying Lab video]. LH405 from JFK to Frankfurt while traveling to the dmexco Conference in Cologne. Giving a talk at 33,000 feet or 10,000 meters up in the air is an experience that I will never forget and even more exciting that it was about space and its digital transformation! [dmexco panel on digital transformation of the space industry  (video) Cindy organized and co-created with German astronaut Dr. Thomas Reiter and David Meza (NASA Johnson. dmexco TV interview (video).]

Which technologies around Big Data most excite you right now and why?

I’m just beginning to learn about all the technology and tools that are available right now. It can be overwhelming to decide where to start, but having an understanding of where your fundamental strengths are is very helpful. For instance, I am a visual person, and photography is one of my passions. So, it would be natural that data visualization or modeling is pretty cool. When you’re working with space data, it’s incredibly inspirational.

Currently, I am learning about repositories like GitHub, coding languages like Python and R, and also data taxonomies and tidy data. They’re all tools to help organize over 32,000 data sets that NASA has opened up, and I am excited to see what people around the world will do with that data. It’s only a subset in learning how to navigate the dataverse, not to mention that sometimes data will “lie” to you, as fellow Datanauts and guru Karen Lopez reminds us, but to really look at where the sources come from. Keywords, or in social media what we would call “hashtags,” are integral in sourcing the data. Now, let’s add Blockchain into the mix and AI—it becomes almost three-dimensional and that is just super cool to me.

Where do you stand on the Elon Musk vs. Mark Zuckerberg divide on the potential benefits and dangers of AI?

The conversations and debate on artificial intelligence are just beginning. We are on the surface of a deep exploration of the cause and effect of AI in technology, and it is a natural progression for there to be contrary or opposing views and debate. It only shows responsibility as leaders in technology.

Personally, I don’t have a position on AI yet, because I am still learning, researching, and acquiring information, but media tends to amplify or exaggerate hot topics to bring it into the news cycle. I have to commend both Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg for participating in the debate and adding to the engagement of others. AI will also be democratized like the Internet.

I do recommend watching this video of Dr. Anastassia Lauterbach in her interview about being a board director and her viewpoints on AI in her upcoming book that will be out later this Fall.

Why was it important to you to go to Juilliard to study piano as an adult student? How has it impacted you professionally as well?

Music has been in my life since a very young age. It’s something that I’ve carried with me coming to the United States as an immigrant and learning how to adapt to my new homeland and expression. I was classically and competitively-trained. I stopped playing when I was 17 years old, and I found that even after I stopped to pursue more scientific and academic pursuits, I missed it. I would listen to music all the time, especially studying for exams. I work best with classical music, and I have had some of the most productive moments and best ideas sitting in on a New York Philharmonic rehearsal.

Studying at Juilliard came to me in the most fascinating of stories. It pretty much involved Daniel Barenboim, The Metropolitan Opera House, High Society patron Mercedes Bass, and The New York Times. It’s a story that’s told much better in person, and I am looking for a venue to give it. At the end, there were placement auditions, I auditioned and got accepted in the intermediate-advanced piano masterclass where we studied Beethoven and Chopin with professor Lisa Kovalik, and it was the most creative, artistic, and rewarding thing I could have done of myself as a young mom. Again, music was there when I needed it.

Juilliard itself has not impacted me professionally in a direct way, but my involvement with music and the performing arts has. The study of music gave me a foundation, fundamental knowledge, and language to describe the importance of the arts to society. It’s simply from my own love of all types of music that has led me to opportunities to serve on steering committees or boards on both coasts and overseas, or the years of training helped to really understand it at the highest levels. That time of service and engagement has opened doors professionally and, more importantly, the ability to leave a legacy in the work and conversations over the years. My daughter’s generation and beyond will benefit from it.

Who are your favorite pianists and piano composers?

My favorite pianists are Vladimir Horowitz, Yefim Bronfman who is incredibly kind and lovely. (I envy his big fingers!), Manny Ax whose equally generous and kind, and Alfred Brendel. But of all, I would wish to see Martha Argerich play Schumann one day.

My favorite piano composers are Mozart, who is like visiting with a childhood friend of mine when I hear his music, the “3 B’”s: Beethoven and his depth, Bach and his structure, and Brahms in his romantic period expressions, Chopin, and Schubert. Rachmaninoff is a beast, but my hands are too small to ever perform his music. And who doesn’t love Tchaikovsky? So many choices, but I also love jazz and pop music too. It’s universal, and it’s in my nature to be curious.

Tell us about the technology entrepreneurs whom you admire most.

Honestly, there are few tech entrepreneurs whom I truly admire. I respect them and their abilities to create and grow a company, but I admire more the scientists who created the foundations in which we can operate our tech. The Internet pioneers, some of whom I know and are friends or colleagues. So I guess Bill and Melinda Gates fall under that category and they’ve moved beyond tech to really make a difference with humanity. They also have true character. Entrepreneurs are people like everyone else. They are not gods. And if the U.S. Air Force decides to take down global GPS, then our smartphones would stop functioning as it is. Let’s just say, I’m grateful that we live in another age of creation and innovation across several sectors, energy, technology and humanity.

Please tell us about CLC Advisors. What kind of companies do you target, and what services do you provide? What would be an ideal client or investment for you?

So what is strategy? It is choosing a unique and valuable position rooted in systems of activities that are more difficult to match in the economic basis of competitive advantage to the level of the specific activities that a company performs. At CLC Advisors, our advisory and strategy consulting practice operates in strategic partnerships and knowledge sharing, we produce case studies, white papers, create bespoke innovation workshops and private salons globally during conference events bringing business and thought leaders together, social media consulting services, and I am often asked to speak at conferences across the globe from Boston to Beijing to Bulgaria.

I look for private investors, VCs, LPs, investment banks or private equity firms who are interested in investing in the global startup ecosystem, and I strategically align them with established entrepreneurs and founding teams of startups who are doing things with frontier technologies with the ability and talent to start, grow and scale great companies, all with a social impact component for the betterment and benefit of humanity. The startup stages are usually pre-seed, who have already raised $500,000 in capital in a “Friends & Family” round to Series B, often who are missing business management experience and need the expertise to bring them to the next level. Many startups lack the longer-term view on strategic growth and the ability to execute on business plans. That’s where we step in, and we also hold a board position as well.

The verticals that I operate in are under the Smart Cities umbrella, which can touch upon sustainability, green tech, energy, IoT and Big Data, as well as aerospace and aviation. Imagine, what would it take to get to Mars and then to survive on it? Can any of those things be done here on our own planet? There are a lot of big problems to solve before we get there, and thanks to Elon Musk—he is really driving new markets and another wave of entrepreneurship on a completely different level.

Lastly, diversity is a key criteria that I also look for. If there are no women or minorities in the company, I will pass on the startup or investor unless they demonstrate an earnest desire to change that ratio.

An ideal client is a private investor, group of investors, or VC who is interested in this space and who does not yet have the sector expert knowledge on what to look for. Many corporate VCs have entered into the venture capital realm and have a long runway time to learn, observe and research in the markets. I’ve been in this for years now and have spent the time in researching which geographical locations are working on these frontier technologies and are ahead of the rest. I hope to release a case study or white paper for clients on this soon.