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Complexity: An intersection of force fields
Theo Anderson was a graduate student at Lehigh in 1978 when he bought his first camera and decided to become a photographer.

Last week, Anderson presented one of his recent photography projects, called Complexity, in the DuBois Gallery of Maginnes Hall.

Anderson completed Complexity over nine days last summer, shooting photos inside the B and C Buildings of the Mountaintop Campus. Lehigh acquired the two former Bethlehem Steel research facilities last year and is using a $20 million gift from Scott Belair ’69 to renovate them into what planners envision as a “vibrant environment for a 21st century learning community.”

Anderson was asked by Lehigh President Alice P. Gast to photograph the two buildings. Gast’s son, David Gast-Askins, who is also a photographer, spent time with Anderson and gained firsthand insight into Anderson’s creative process.

The relationship between Gast, a chemical engineer, and Anderson, an artist, reflected both the purpose of the Mountaintop space and Complexity’s goal in visual exploration.

“Lehigh is setting up students to do [things like] this,” Anderson said, waving his smartphone in the air. “Create things that have never been imagined before. The possibilities are endless.”

“Mountaintop at Lehigh is an opportunity, an adventure, an inspiration,” Gast said. “It’s about education. It’s about taking risks. We are fortunate enough to see this through the discovery of a wonderful artist.”

Anderson’s images help with this inspiration, she added, by offering much opportunity for reflection. They shed light on the people who occupied the space before, and the people who will utilize it in the future.

“Spiritual moments”

In order to do the project right, Anderson followed a deliberate process.

“I had to clear my mind and eliminate any preconceptions I had about the space,” he said. “The possibility of being open allowed me to do things I wouldn’t normally do.”

To begin, Anderson looked for elements of visual structure that “made my heart sing.” From there, he used his love of natural light and ordinary things to create the inspirational undertaking which came to be known as Complexity.

“When the photo happens, it’s incredibly peaceful,” Anderson said. He gestured to his photos of abandoned pencil sharpeners and soap dishes, and of children’s drawings and calendars left behind in offices and work spaces. “These are spiritual moments for me.”

Twenty diverse student projects will take place on Mountaintop this summer. In a project supervised by Elizabeth Fifer, professor of English, students will produce a documentary film about Wislawa Symborska, the late Polish poet who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for literature.

In another, students will study the “implicit ambient information” (IAI) contained in people’s nonverbal behaviors and interactions and explore “how an intelligent living space can record and analyze IAI in order to understand and respond to an individual’s mood and adjust the living space accordingly.” The project will be supervised by Michael Spear, assistant professor of computer science and engineering.

Gast said the university is giving students total and free rein with their Mountaintop projects.

“We are often asked what’s going to be up there,” she said. “But we should be asking: what will students do there that will make people look at things differently?”


Photo by Christa Neu