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The golden ratio

Mathematics and photography with Jared Abwawo

Jared Abwawo

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Jared Abwawo is both a math teacher at Tacoma Community College and a photographer. Where many mathematicians may consider solving the Rubik's Cube an artform (or, worse, solving an equation) Abwawo is a master at combining calculus with composition, algebra with art. As such, he has succeeded in defying nerdy math stereotypes everywhere ... or at least in Tacoma. For the next two months his photography will be on display at the Gig Harbor TCC Campus.

Abwawo grew up in Kenya where he made the decision to choose either art or math as the area of his long-term study - he chose math at that point, but art has always been a part of his life.

"For as long as I can remember," he says, "I have always appreciated art, especially pencil and charcoal drawings. Mathematics is one of the subjects that come easy to me. I have always been self-motivated when it comes to studying mathematics or photography."

Abwawo attained a graduate degree in mathematics before fully pursuing a long-held passion for the arts by attending the New York Institute of Photography.

With subjects that range from striking yet simple shots of calla lilies to portraiture to landscapes and event photos, Abwawo does not focus exclusively on one type of subject. Instead, he strives for a universal theme. His photos most often center in on a central image, putting that image on stage with his careful composition and lighting decisions. The results are eye-catching and often bold.

"I try to flatter my subject in an attempt to have people pay close attention to it and hopefully appreciate it," he says. "This can be specific to a particular subject or a larger group such as nature or people. In some of the pictures on display at the exhibition, my intention was to bring out the essence and/or the elegance of the subjects that I photographed."

But with two such different sides to his interests, do math and his artistic eye intertwine in his photography? You bet your booty they do!

He points out that, "In photography, one of the fundamentals of a good photograph is composition and it has some mathematical relevance. The rule of thirds suggests to the photographer the optimal position in the picture for which the subject will stand out. I think that this rule has something to do with the golden ratio."

The golden ratio, if you don't know, is a mathematical and artistic phenomenon. I attempted to look it up on Wikipedia to explain it to my public, but suffice it to say that I don't think I'm that smart anymore. Essentially, it means something has a specific ratio that for some reason humans find appealing. In short, it means something is just pretty.

Abwawo adds, "Every time I look through the viewfinder to take a picture, I always think about how the subject will be placed in relation to other objects in the picture. When lighting a subject, I get good results quickly when I consider my lighting ratio as opposed to guess and check. For me, mathematics is a utility subject for great photography. I don't see how you can compose and capture great images most of the time if you put mathematics on the back burner."

Abwawo's work has been exhibited at Tacoma Community College in the past. Currently, his work is on display in the new exhibition space at the Gig Harbor TCC campus, which will feature local artists of all kinds. Abwawo's photography will be on display there for all to see until March 24.

[Exhibition space at Tacoma Community College Gig Harbor Campus,through March 24, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 pm Friday, free, 3993 Hunt St., Gig Harbor, 253.566.5000]

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