Student Well-Being Photo Essay

Brain Games

By Education Week Photo Staff — August 09, 2013 2 min read
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Adam Wiens, senior artist at Games Learning Society, works on animating a character from the “Crystals of Kaydor” video game at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

EdWeek: Narayan, this was an interesting assignment, can you tell us a little more about it?
Narayan: This assignment was to shoot still photos and video for a story about the research being done at the University of Wisconsin in Madison by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the Games, Learning and Society Lab, where neuroscientists and video-game developers and designers are creating a video game that they think will help teach kids empathy, and another game that introduces mindfulness practices. So, part of this assignment was to shoot a little bit of what is happening at the G.L.S. Lab, how the game is designed and how kids play it and evaluate it and give their feedback to the designers and programmers, and then at the C.I.H.M where they do an MRI to see what is happening in the brain. It’s fascinating work that is being done.

From left to right, Eli Resnick, 14, Zander Esh, 13, and Isaac Ballwahn, 14, evaluate “Crystals of Kaydor” while playing the game on an iPad at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Created by the Games Learning Society, the educational video game helps students build personal characteristics such as grit and determination.

EdWeek: You already had contacts at the university, can you talk about how already knowing some of the researchers helped on assignment?
Narayan: I have shot various assignments either for publications or for the University of Wisconsin that have brought me into contact with some of the researchers and their work. The first I had heard of this collaboration between the works of Richard Davidson and Constance Steinkuehler was when the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds was hosting His Holiness the Dalai Lama, during which some of the researchers were trying to get [him] to try one of the games. It’s an aspect of living and working in Madison, Wisconsin, that I really love; the work that is taking place here is so fascinating and all the inter-institutional collaborating that is happening is really something beautiful… neuroscientists and video game designers, that’s creativity at it’s best.

A video exercise is shown while brain scans are performed on subjects at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

EdWeek: Do you prepare for assignments requiring both still pictures and video differently from just photo assignments?
Narayan: My preparation for an assignment that requires shooting both still photos and video is a little different than how I would prepare for an assignment requiring only still photography. On the practical side, I have a different equipment checklist for a video shoot. The creative preparation is not so different because there needs to be aesthetic continuity between the two mediums.

Brain scans are performed on subjects while performing an exercise at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Serena Lee, 14, plays “Crystals of Kaydor” at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

EdWeek: Shooting stills and video is challenging, tell us how you managed your time? How did you choose which moments were still and which moments lent themselves to video?
Narayan: When I shoot both stills and video at the same time on a documentary/photojournalistic assignment, I have to accept that I will miss certain moments. That is just the cost of shooting both at the same time. Some of those moments might be better suited for video, while others would be better still photos-a contemplative, quiet moment is well suited for a still photo, for instance, while the animation of a video-game character being built on a computer screen is better seen in motion. To help mitigate the amount of moments I miss I keep a separate camera set up for video so I can go quickly from one camera to the other. During key moments I will shoot stills (on a silent mode) while recording video on the other camera. Shooting video requires more shooting than just still photography would, so making sure I am shooting a single moment or scene from multiple angles is much more important. It’s a challenge to juggle the two mediums at the same time.
The Photographer:

Narayan Mahon is a commercial and editorial photographer in Madison. To find out more about him and his work visit his website at

A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.


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