Ben Cresto: Reflections, and Moving Forward

As I reflect on this summer’s research, I am amazed with just how circuitous its development has been, how serpentine the ebb and flow of my readings has become, all of the bouncing around I did. Going into projects, I can tend to take a pretty narrow approach. I often go in with established questions and interests and a firm idea of exactly how I’d like to go about answering them. Some may call such an approach stubborn, perhaps even myopic—and they’d be right.

This summer has been an excellent experience for me in the sense that it allowed me to let my research develop organically and with great breadth. I’ve never had such a long-term project, and it has permitted me the opportunity to consider concepts, readings, scholars, and entire disciplines that I would have otherwise had no exposure to on a more traditional, shorter term academic research project. I’ve been able to challenge myself and my findings, constantly putting them in conversation and contrast with previous research and preconceptions. 

I began the summer thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to get to the bottom of: how light disproportionately affects communities of color. In retrospect, I look at that research question and instantly start poking holes in all sorts of gaps of understanding, methodology, and logic. I’ve taken one step back and two steps forward: I’ve let my project develop into something broader and morph into an in-depth analysis into the materiality of light, challenging the understanding that exists in an American collective social consciousness of perceiving light as a benevolent, innocuous, inmaterial force, and uncovering a more holistic understanding of the ways in which light encompasses a sense of agency, which can be imbued with benevolence, malevolence, or some manifestation of intentionality. 

This understanding, of course, is not mutually exclusive with answering the question that I set out to answer—how light can be leveraged against others. In fact, this research largely lays the necessary groundwork for giving an appropriate response to the original question, but it also opens up a host of other doors and uncovered many more questions along the way. Seeing as I am only half-way through my undergraduate degree, I am incredibly fortunate to pursue the opportunities that lie ahead. With another whole summer ahead of me, and a future senior project that I intend on developing, I am brimming with excitement for the ways in which I can expand upon my findings into entirely new projects. Questions of materiality and intentionality that I have uncovered this summer have been inspiring me to look into new realms that I didn’t even know existed. In any case, I am looking forward to what’s in store for the future of this project and the projects that blossom out of it, and I can’t wait to share my findings with the Gallatin community and hear from all of the other summer researchers!

A collapsed overhead street luminary.
A store front illuminated and framed through an outdoor dining space. (This image is incredibly compressed, so my apologies for any quality issues!)
The anonymity of a backlit silhouette provided at concerts.