Photographing Cambridge

Yunfeng Ruan

Photographing Cambridge is my way of making myself hate this place less.

Unlike what people may expect, I found Cambridge a cold and stressful place soon after I moved here. This is a wonderful academic place full of world-famous universities and research institutes, but maybe it is too full: strangers at the next table in the restaurant talk about their research projects. Even in the kendo (a Japanese martial art) club, most people work at a university, and if they don’t, they work at an R&D department. All my conversations turn out to be somehow job-related.

Research is great, but a place only focusing on research is suffocating to me. Life should be much more than carefully controlled experiments, funding applications, seminars and conferences. Human intelligence should be more than a tool for inventing a new algorithm or writing a high-impact paper.

Our job defines many aspects of our life, but outside my job as a researcher, I have the freedom to redefine my life and even redefine the town I live in. Photographing the plants, the river, and graffiti is my way of stripping off the halo of academic clout from this town. I want to find a small place where people only care about their garden, the weather, or rebellious art. I want to see if this town is still charming without all the vanity that haunts the tourism booklets. I want a moment or two when all my attention is dedicated to the subtle details that are meaningless for a successful research career but purely pleasant to stare at.

That is why I hate taking photos of the iconic tourism spots, and instead gravitate towards “plain and ordinary” street corners. Who says Cambridge has to only be known for its universities? Who says our life has to only be defined by our job?

Photos by James Capuzzi