The Art of Mathematics in Chalk

Clara Moskowitz:

Even when it is inscrutable, math is beautiful. Photographer Jessica Wynne set out to capture this appeal when she began photographing mathematicians’ chalkboards around the world in 2018. “I’ve always been interested in entering into worlds outside my realm of knowledge,” Wynne says. Without comprehending what the math on the chalkboards represented, she was able to appreciate it on a purely aesthetic level. “It’s a similar feeling as when I’m looking at an abstract painting. But it added more interest that beyond the surface there’s great meaning and great depth, and they’re trying to reveal universal truth.”

Wynne was first drawn into the world of math when she befriended two mathematicians who vacationed near where she spent summers on Cape Cod. As she learned about their research, she found many parallels between the process of math and the process of art. “I was really surprised to witness how they work and how creative what they do is,” she says.

As Wynne began to travel to different universities to meet more mathematicians, she discovered how diverse their chalkboard styles are. “Some were very clean and neat and very carefully considered,” she recalls. “And some were just this explosion and chaos. The chalkboards almost felt like portraits of the person and depended on the personality of the mathematician.”