Making black-and-white more grey
Nathaniel Brunt, Communication and Culture PhD student and Trudeau Scholar
As Ryerson University’s second Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar, external link, Communication and Culture PhD student Nathaniel Brunt is exploring how photography plays a role in memory and history. For his dissertation, Brunt is examining amateur archival photographs of social lives in Kashmir, and how they influence perceptions of conflict.
What drives your research?
As a cultural historian and documentarian, human stories are at the core of what I do: stories of people who have to live through these horrible events, but also stories of hope and resilience, which are found at the extremes of human existence.
Regardless of the location, I want to deconstruct the oversimplified, black-and-white view often portrayed by mainstream media and show people that there is this uncomfortable grey area in modern conflict, so we can try to solve problems with a better understanding of the complexity of these contemporary issues.
Is there objectivity in photography?
No. Photography has a direct connection to reality but it’s fragmentary and limited to what you see in the frame. I do believe in honesty and integrity as part of the photographer's role, which for me involves being transparent about the subjective nature of the medium by putting myself into it while acknowledging my outsider status.
How has your Ryerson graduate education been?
It’s been a very positive experience. This is my second graduate degree at Ryerson so it was natural for me to come back because of the university’s tradition of blending practice and rigorous academic work, and its longstanding connection to photography and documentary media.
The graduate faculty have been amazing at giving guidance and pushing me in directions I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. I’ve developed great relationships and friendships with the faculty. They have always been supportive and there for me when I needed them.
How has the Trudeau Scholarship affected your career?
It’s an incredible opportunity to be part of this unbelievably interesting and diverse community of scholars. I’ve met so many researchers who are exploring fascinating topics that are so different from mine.
It’s also opened doors to connecting with people I didn’t think I could reach before. For me, research is important but disseminating it is equally important, which is why I’m using photography as a means to communicate my learnings and engage the broader public. The average person may not read a scholarly article, but a photograph is much more accessible. So to be able to share my work with a large audience is really exciting.