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Two Roses

May 25, 2014 Leave a comment

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After taking first birthday photos of Ruby and Charlee four days ago (one of which tops the post I wrote earlier tonight), I realized I had been oblivious to the blooming of our roses. Out I went for a closer look, camera already around my neck, which led to the two photos I’m featuring here. I still need to learn how to take better pictures, and how to get the most out of my extremely capable camera. For now, this will have to do. As always, click for greater detail.

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Categories: Photography

Shoot the Moon

April 20, 2014 1 comment

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Above is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day from two days ago. (Click on it to download a higher-resolution image.) As explained at NASA’s site, it’s a real photo, with genuine colors, the redness of the moon stemming from its being in mid-eclipse.

By way of explanation, there’s an on-going project at Apache Point Observatory, in southern New Mexico, that uses the observatory’s 3.5-meter telescope in reverse. Usually, a telescope collects light. Tom Murphy of UC San Diego has an on-going experiment that uses the telescope instead to project light, sending a laser beam to the moon.

Astronomers love to give their experiments clever acronyms. Murphy’s is APOLLO, or the the Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation. Apollo is an appropriate name because the experiment depends on mirrors left behind by astronauts during the 1971 Apollo 15 lunar landing. By using the APO telescope to focus a laser beam on such a mirror, the APOLLO team can measure the time it takes for the light to return, thereby obtaining a precise measurement of the distance between the earth and the moon. This, in turn, provides a test of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

That’s the gist of it anyway. You can read more at the APOLLO page or Tom Murphy’s home page. Or, in the description of the photo that appeared with it two days ago (with links omitted; see original for lots of them):

This is not a scene from a sci-fi special effects movie. The green beam of light and red lunar disk are real enough, captured in the early morning hours of April 15. Of course, the reddened lunar disk is easy to explain as the image was taken during this week’s total lunar eclipse. Immersed in shadow, the eclipsed Moon reflects the dimmed reddened light of all the sunsets and sunrises filtering around the edges of planet Earth, seen in silhouette from a lunar perspective. But the green beam of light really is a laser. Shot from the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico, the beam’s path is revealed as Earth’s atmosphere scatters some of the intense laser light. The laser’s target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971. By determining the light travel time delay of the returning laser pulse, the experimental team from UC San Diego is able to measure the Earth-Moon distance to millimeter precision and provide a test of General Relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravity. Conducting the lunar laser ranging experiment during a total eclipse uses the Earth like a cosmic light switch. With direct sunlight blocked, the reflector’s performance is improved over performance when illuminated by sunlight during a normal Full Moon, an effect known as the real Full Moon Curse.

It turns out that I’ve been involved with Apache Point Observatory in an administrative role since 2003. My first visit to APO was in October 2005, the month APOLLO started, but I didn’t get to see a laser shot. On my next visit, in April 2008, I was at the observatory during daytime only. In three weeks, I’ll be back for a celebration of the telescope’s twentieth anniversary, which will include some nighttime viewing. Perhaps I’ll see the laser in operation. I hope so.

Categories: Photography, Science

The Morgan Library

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

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A week ago we were in New York to celebrate my mother’s 94th birthday. What to do after the festive lunch at La Grenouille and leaving my parents? Well, we were on 52nd, with the Morgan Library just 16 blocks down Madison. Why not stop by? We did.

Good decision.

I see that I wrote a post about the Morgan in October 2010, on the occasion of the post-restoration reopening of the historic 1906 building that Charles McKim designed to serve as J.P. Morgan’s office and library. Reviewing it, I see that Gail and I last visited almost exactly three years before, when we were back in New York for my father’s 90th birthday. The Renzo Piano addition to the library was still new. Joel had flown back to Boston the day we visited. Last week we all went.

What did we see? Well, first, of course, the restored 1906 building.

In 2010 the Morgan restored the interior of the 1906 library to its original grandeur. A new lighting system was installed to illuminate the extraordinary murals and decor of the four historic rooms. Intricate marble surfaces and applied ornamentation were cleaned, period furniture was reupholstered, and original fixtures—including three chandeliers removed decades ago—were restored and reinstalled. A late-nineteenth-century Persian rug (similar to the one originally there) was laid in the grand East Room. The ornate ceiling of the librarian’s office, or North Room, was cleaned, and visitors are able to enter the refurbished space—now a gallery—for the first time. New, beautifully crafted display cases throughout the 1906 library feature selections from the Morgan’s collection of great works of art and literature from the ancient world to modern times.

You can read more about the restoration here and here. I especially love the “intricately carved cylinder seals produced by Mesopotamian sculptors” in the North Room.

Next we headed to one of the temporary exhibitions, The Little Prince: A New York Story. The description:

Since its publication seventy years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has captivated millions of readers throughout the world. It may come as a surprise that this French tale of an interstellar traveler who comes to Earth in search of friendship and understanding was written and first published in New York City, during the two years the author spent here at the height of the Second World War.

As he prepared to leave the city to rejoin the war effort as a reconnaissance pilot, Saint-Exupéry appeared at his friend Silvia Hamilton’s door wearing his military uniform. “I’d like to give you something splendid,” he said, “but this is all I have.” He tossed a rumpled paper bag onto her entryway table. Inside were the manuscript and drawings for The Little Prince, which the Morgan acquired from her in 1968.

Focusing on the story’s American origins, this exhibition features twenty-five of the manuscript pages—replete with crossed-out words, cigarette burns, and coffee stains—and all forty-three of the earliest versions of drawings for the book. Also on view are rare printed editions from the Morgan’s collection as well as personal letters, photographs, and artifacts on loan from the Saint-Exupéry estate, private collections, and museums and libraries in France and the United States.

The Little Prince: A New York Story is the first exhibition to explore in depth the creative decisions Saint-Exupéry made as he crafted his beloved story that reminds us that what matters most can only be seen with the heart.

We would have gotten more out of the exhibition if we had ever read The Little Prince.

Across the hall was A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play. Wow! We were so fortunate to stumble in. It was a stunner.

A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play signals the debut of photography as a curatorial focus at the Morgan. With over eighty works from more than two dozen collections arranged into a surprising chain of visual associations, the exhibition explores the many ways of interpreting a photograph and pays tribute to the unique role played by the creative collector. Each photograph in the exhibition’s “collective invention” shares a visual or conceptual quality with the piece to its left, another with the one to its right. Embodying photography’s rich history and wide range of applications in science, art, propaganda, journalism, and self-promotion, A Collective Invention celebrates a medium that mirrors the energy and complexity of modern life.

The photographs were wonderful on their own, ranging in time from the mid-nineteenth century to today, in location around the world, and in subject as wide as you can imagine. Here a photo taken by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in 1858 of the Lidell girls, Alice on the right. There a photo of Lenny Bruce in court in 1962 with a tape recorder. And one of my favorites, an array of photographer baseball cards.

The visitor can enjoy the photos for their intrinsic merits or add to the pleasure by observing the thematic pairings, each photo indeed connected obviously or subtly to the one on its left and, in an entirely different way, to the one on its right.

The exhibition webpage has a slide show with selected photos. I urge you to look through it. Better yet, if you’re in New York by May 18, see the exhibition itself. See also Ken Johnson’s review in the NYT.

Here’s the idea: Look at a photograph, and zero in on one element. It can be obvious or incidental, formal or conceptual. Then find another photograph that contains something similar to what you spotted in the first image. Now identify something in the second photograph — again, important or trivial — and discover something like that in a third picture. Repeat ad infinitum.

[snip]

Following this herky-jerky, daisy-chain path through the whole show is not only amusing, but also has some philosophical payoffs. Most immediately, it unsettles customary habits of visual consumption. The labels prompt you to examine aspects and details of pictures that might otherwise pass unnoticed, fostering an alertness to both what you’re looking at and how you’re looking at it.

Categories: Museums, Photography

More Dahlias

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

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Three weeks ago I wrote about a problem with my newly arrived camera that somehow solved itself, illustrating the post with a photo of a dahlia in our frontyard. Here are photos taken on Sunday of two more dahlias, from our backyard.

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I suppose that’s all I have to say. One of these days I’ll take the camera on a trip and have a wider range of subjects to display.

Categories: Photography

Dahlia

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

dahlia

I got a new camera two nights ago. It’s been a long wait. I first read about it in March 2011. It was great, but had some defects. And it’s expensive. So I waited. Two years later, this past March, in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Augusta and the Masters, I figured this might be the right time to buy it. No way was I going to lug my Nikon DSLR around, both because it’s heavy and because it has become unreliable. It has a habit of deciding that the memory card is unreadable. I reformat, get a few shots, then a renewed error message. The camera is nine years old. Clearly the time has come to replace it. With a new Nikon, I could use all my lenses. But still I wasn’t going to drag the new Nikon around the golf course. Time for that camera I had put off buying two years ago. And when I looked it up, I saw that the price had dropped $400. Plus, it was available. No two month wait.

Why such a price drop? The answer, of course, is that the updated version had just come out. No availability yet in the US, but I could order it and get on the waiting list–at the old price. The defects, of both hardware and software, had been fixed. It was perfect. Lightweight, fantastic fixed lens, takes incredible photos. But I couldn’t have it in time for our trip, so I put off ordering it.

Seven weeks ago, I finally did order it, and Tuesday it came. I couldn’t wait to get home. Yes, there was the huge backlog of blog posts to write, and Tuesday would be my first free evening for blogging in many days. But the camera won out.

Except, it had a crucial defect. One of its best features was supposed to be the dual optical/electronic viewfinder with the simple way to switch between the two. In retro style–retro style being one of the camera’s charms–the switch to the side of the lens that traditionally would be the timer was the toggle between the two viewfinder modes. But as often as I switched it, I couldn’t get out of electronic mode. Boy was I disappointed.

First thing yesterday morning, I called Fuji’s help desk to see what my options were. Send it to them for repair under warranty, paying shipping no less, or see if Amazon would want it back, which presumably would have led to another 1-2 month wait for a replacement. Disheartening. The guy asked if I had tried something, which of course I had–I’m no idiot–but to humor him, I tried again. And suddenly the switch worked! I’m still wary. Will it keep working? I don’t know. But it works for now.

All I need is some time to try out the camera’s many features, time that will take me away from Ron’s View, time I took earlier this evening. You can see one result above. More to come.

Categories: Photography