Sunday, May 4, 2008

... Cloudy Dreams, but Real

Highway to Kata Tjuta, April 1986

Two of you (and you know who you are) have been checking in on PicShers frequently since it started two months ago. Those two wonderful folks have, no doubt, noticed that the pictures’ dates are either before 1965 or after 1999. There are multiple reasons for that, none of which I’ll go into right now.

But that’s about to change.

In this entry of PicShers, I reproduced a photo of me taken by a now-famous professional photographer, Roger Ressmeyer. Problem was, the only copy I had was a damaged print that had been clamped in an oval frame since 1989. I went searching for another copy, and, in an attic here in the Fort, found it in a bonanza box:

An attic of my life

Hidden up in the rafters, unopened in at least ten years, was this plastic box. It contains hundreds of photos and negatives, ones I had lost track of. Since 1965 and until the digital age, my “serious” photography was all monochrome, hand-processed. Occasionally, though, I’d run a roll of color print or slide film through my old SRT-101 (yes, the same camera body served me for those decades), or I’d have a roll of Tri-X that I didn’t want to hassle with in the darkroom. Those rolls went to the drugstore, or werherever, and were then stashed away in this box. And then forgotten.

I’m going to be spending a lot of time scanning the box’s contents for a good long while now. Here are a few early returns:

Adam at a company picnic for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, circa 1984.

Adam and Doug at Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, 1981.

Violist and magazine production savant Janet Doughty, Oahu, mid-80’s.

Bush cracker plane, 1986 {click to read the logo.)

Roger’s picture of me.

The photo that triggered the search was the above snapshot. Roger Ressmeyer had been a paying participant in a two-week astronomical tour of Australia in 1986, timed for the closest approach of Halley’s Comet, for which I was one of two astronomical “experts.” (Roger, then, was just at the beginning of his career, having had some success as a San Francisco rock scene photographer, but anxious to branch out into other areas, especially space science.) By the time we reached Cairns at the end of the tour, we were all just completely worn out, and we had a few days of rest and relaxation programmed in before flying back to the US. Roger and I and many others took a ferry out to the Great Barrier Reef, and on the way he borrowed my camera. Once.

He pressed the shutter button once, and once only, and handed the old Minolta back to me.

Most readers of SherWords can’t know this (of course Adam can, though), but that one press of the button produced the best photo of me – in ways more important than whether or not it’s “flattering” – ever taken.

That’s what makes Roger and others of his ilk special, no matter what their medium happens to be. The rest of us can come up with a good, even special, product after great effort and iteration. The greats start iterating where we are satisfied.


Mike said...

So, if you were in Australia, could you read the newspaper at night by the light of Halley's Comet? I'd have flown down there for that, because it sure didn't come close enough up here.

Brian Fies said...

Halley's '86 takes me back to one of my best nights ever.

I was a couple of years past college graduation by then, but still living near my college town. More importantly, I still had a set of keys to the small campus observatory (still do, in fact... I keep meaning to go back and see if they still work).

Probably right around the time you were on a boat off the coast of Australia, I decided to sneak up to the observatory and check out the comet. I arrived to find the door open and the dome already occupied by a few people, including the physics professor mentor I blogged about once ( Nobody seemed particularly surprised to see me, though I think the prof gave me a sly look like he knew I had a set of keys I shouldn't and as long as I kept quiet it was all right with him.

Over the course of the night more people showed up unbidden. I knew them all; some had graduated even before I did, some I hadn't seen in years. Maybe a dozen in all. Nothing had been organized, it just kind of happened--everyone seemed magically drawn to that spot on that night. We all took turns looking through the lens, two or three of us strapped cameras to the telescope and shot some time exposures, and otherwise we all enjoyed a spontaneous reunion. It was very, very cool.

A night like that just reinforced my sense that astronomical observatories feel like the most hallowed ground I've ever been on. You've got great gothic cathedrals like Lick or tiny roadside chapels like my college dome. They're all holy places.

Of course the comet itself was a near-total bust. But who cares?

Anonymous said...

Great news! I'd love to take a peek in your little brown time capsule.

One bone to pick though. You neglected to put the disclaimer "in my opinion" in front of "the best photo ever taken of me".

I seem to remember a shot of you at the apex of Willard's Wizzer, a roller coaster at Great America in Santa Clara, taken some time in the early eighties.

You had a look of pure, unmitigated joy as your considerable white man's 'fro flowed gracefully behind you.

IN MY OPINION, that is the best photo ever taken of you. Is it in the box? I'm sure my fellow SherFans would love to see it.

The other is quite nice as well.

Blows my mind to think you were just a few years older than I am now when it was taken.

Time marches on.

Adam Harrington-

Roger Ressmeyer said...

Woody, thanks for the compliment. One of the benefits of having a rich "google" background is that a variety of old friends keep track of me. My first girlfriend (from age 13) forwarded and wrote to me this evening about your post: "this is ... neat!" A week ago I copied the picture down from your earlier post, and started enhancing it. But I work on 5 computers and I lost the file. Send me a full-rez copy (my email can handle 20MB) and I'll send you back "my" version of "my" snap ;-) Don't you just love PhotoShop!

I remember that trip with you with great affection; do you remember I had crutches from "early" arthroscopic surgery, only a week earlier? As a result, I've long considered that shoot, one of 1,000, to be my weakest ever. Except, perhaps, when I used your camera!

All best,

Roger Ressmeyer
CEO and founder, Science Faction Images

Sherwood Harrington said...

Roger! What a treat to hear from you again after all these years! Yes, I remember your crutches... and your good humor. I'm not in a position to judge the quality of your work on that trip, but you must have at least enjoyed doing the "Miss Halley's Comet" shoot in Alice Springs. I've already gotten in touch with you on your offer to spiffy-up the snapshot, and thank you for that, too.

Adam, of course I meant "best one taken when I wasn't on a thrill ride." Without that disclaimer,
this one
would be in the running, too. Couldn't find the one you mention, though, but I do remember you and your brother referring to it often. Especially the part about the 'fro.

Mike, the comet was slightly more impressive from the Southern Hemisphere because it was higher in the sky at its brightest there than here -- but my best memory of the night sky from that trip was the staggering spectacle of the Milky Way as seen from the way-outback. The center of the galaxy passed overhead, and, with the pitch-black-black background, the arch of the galaxy was breathtaking.

Brian... your comment deserves a full post rather than just a second-order comment from me. I'll just say here that the entire continent of Australia during that time was a larger-scale version of the gathering you describe at your old campus observatory -- we kept running into other astronomers-and-friends from the northern hemisphere just about everywhere we went. I even bumped into my undergraduate thesis advisor on a tour of the Mt. Stromlo Observatory administrative offices.