Photographer snaps Cambridge genius in 21st century

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CAMBRIDGE, England, Oct 31 (Reuters) Nobel prizewinners, cleaners, top athletes, famed scientists, gardeners and promising young academics of the future have all looked down the lens of Howard Guest over the past 20 months.

The English photographer has been quietly getting around Cambridge university on a mission to create a modern snapshot of the people who have inherited the legacy of the renowned university passed down by such towering figures as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and William Wordsworth.

In the process he's bandied words with one of the world's greatest moral philosophers, talked genetics in the garden with a double Nobel prizewinner on the subject, captured protests with student activist leaders and photographed Cambridge's most famous physicist Stephen Hawking.

Guest, who inherited his love of photography and his first camera from his mother, gave up an established career in finance to chase his dream of taking portraits.

''I live in Cambridge, so I was naturally drawn to the university, which is filled with fascinating people on the cutting edge of human knowledge,'' he said.

So he approached the university and persuaded it to make its people available as part of a drive to raise funds and burnish its profile ahead of its 800th anniversary in 2009.

''I suppose the most difficult photograph I've taken was Stephen Hawking because I normally chat endlessly with my subjects,'' Guest said.

Hawkings, author of a ''Brief History of Time'', is the current incumbent of the most famous academic chair in the world, the 330-year-old Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at Cambridge. He has advanced motor neuron disease, is confined to a wheelchair and can only talk through a computer controlled by his eyes.

''I felt incredibly intrusive,'' Guest said. ''We talked about film versus digital photography but it was a bit one-sided.'' That was in stark contrast to Guest's usual method of chatting to set his subjects at ease as he seeks to tap into some of the world's foremost minds.

CARPENTERS, CLEANERS, COACHES He has talked physics with the Nobel prizewinning discoverer of pulsars, Antony Hewish, as he photographed him against a giant radio astronomy dish on the outskirts of Cambridge.

''I asked him why does light travel at a constant speed and when I admitted that my knowledge of physics was rather limited he laughingly replied: 'It just does and anyway that makes all the equations work out.''' Guest has also taken portraits of other Cambridge luminaries like Keith Moffat, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Sciences; Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society Martin Rees and renowned moral philospher Onora O'Neill.

But his portraits have not all been focused on academics.

He's photographed a cleaner in a tower that was sealed for decades after Cambridge scientists split the atom there, a secretary whose office is in the room where Francis Crick and James Watson unravelled the double helix of DNA, the Cambridge University Boat Club coach, the first female ''boatman'' on the River Cam, gardeners, a carpenter and a glass blower.

He intends to produce a book, ''On the Shoulders of Giants'', (www.howardguest.co.uk) and will exhibit his portraits at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge next June until September.

Fitzwilliam Director Duncan Robinson said the museum was delighted to make Guest's work its first sole photographic exhibition in the prelude to Cambridge's octocentenary.

''He has that rare gift as a photographer of being able to capture something more than a simple likeness; his images are lively impressions of the people they capture, posed or unaware, as they go about their different occupations,'' Robinson said.

''I can think of no better way to portray our university than through the people who make it what it is.'' REUTERS ARB MIR KP1656

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