Human Race Machine will provide unique way to discuss race and identity at Washington University

Photo booth helps people move beyond appearances

The inauguration of the first African-American president on January 20, held in such close proximity to the annual commemoration of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. on January 19, as well as the “Big Read” community book discussion on “To Kill a Mockingbird,” provided the impetus for the Assembly Series to take on a project featuring the Human Race Machine (HRM).

The HRM is a photo booth that takes a person’s picture and then shows what that person would look like as a person of another race. A camera captures a person’s image, then uses a program to morph the picture into others that change the appearance. Anyone interested in trying out the HRM will have the opportunity from January 10 through 16. It will first be located in Mallinckrodt Center’s lobby, to accompany the Edison Theatre performances of “To Kill a Mockingbird;” it will then be placed in the Danforth University Center Commons.

The desired outcome of this project is to generate an entirely different way of talking about race, identity, and other issues that divide us as a nation. Participating student groups include the Association of Black Students, Asian American Association, Connect 4, Association of Mixed Students, Pride Alliance, Ashoka, and the Association of Latin American Students. In addition, the American culture studies program and the Democracy and Citizenship Initiative, in Arts & Sciences, are sponsoring the project, as well as Edison Theatre and the Big Read.

From Friday, January 9 through Sunday, January 11, the HRM will be located in the lobby of Mallinckrodt Center, across from Edison Theatre. From Monday, January 12 through Friday, January 16, it will be located in the north lobby of the Danforth University Center. For a list of times the machine will be operational, visit the Assembly Series Web site at

On February 25, the Assembly Series will present a discussion with selected students and faculty on how their beliefs and understanding of race have changed as a result of the January events and of their experiences with the Human Race Machine.

The Human Race Machine was created to give viewers the opportunity to envision themselves as a different race. According to scientific studies, the DNA of any two humans is 99.97 percent identical and that there is no gene for race. The HRM’s goal is to allow individuals to move beyond physical appearance and contemplate a deeper human connection. Its power to change people’s perceptions about others has been documented in the PBS series, “Race: The Power of an Illusion,” shown in April 2003.

The machine was invented by Nancy Burson, who also is a photographer and writer, and teaches at New York University.

For more information on the Human Race Machine or the Assembly Series discussion, visit the Web page at, or call 314-935-4620.