The sky’s the limit

Fire and Ice: Alan Fried­man and Dou­glas Le­vere

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Paul Wei­de­man The New Mex­i­can

From print to print in the ex­hi­bi­tion Fire and Ice, the vis­i­tor is con­fronted by im­ages of tremen­dous burn­ing en­ergy and of quiet, frigid, crys­talline forms. The show, which opens on Fri­day, Jan. 29, at Photo-eye Gallery, jux­ta­poses tele­scopic im­ages of the sun’s sur­face by Alan Fried­man and mi­cro­scopic stud­ies of snowflakes by Dou­glas Le­vere. By us­ing fil­ters on the cam­era, one can pho­to­graph the sun. Fried­man’s pho­tos re­veal fas­ci­nat­ing tex­tures and ef­fects. There are so­lar flares, sunspots, and erupt­ing gaseous phe­nom­ena called “promi­nences.” Even the “calmer” ar­eas of the sun’s sur­face are filled with ac­tiv­ity — it looks some­what like a hay­field be­ing blown in many di­rec­tions at once. “Those struc­tures are in the chro­mo­sphere and the at­mos­phere of the sun,” Fried­man said.

He has been shoot­ing the sun for many years. He first at­tached a cam­era to his tele­scope in the mid1990s. “I ac­tu­ally just had a li­cens­ing re­quest from a Euro­pean mag­a­zine, New Sci­en­tist, and it was for the first im­age I ever had pub­lished. I thought that was kind of funny, but I do love that one. It’s a film im­age, a dou­ble- ex­po­sure shot of the first- quar­ter moon.” The sun pic­tures are not sim­ply made, and the cam­era is a type that most peo­ple never see. The as­tropho­tog­ra­pher said that the “stream­ing in­dus­trial cam­eras” he em­ploys in this work are sim­i­lar to cam­eras used to catch red-light vi­o­la­tors at city in­ter­sec­tions and also to com­puter we­b­cams. An­other

un­usual as­pect of his tech­nique is that each photo is made from thou­sands of frames. His cam­era records at the rate of 11 frames a se­cond, so dur­ing a typ­i­cal two or three min­utes of ex­po­sure, he gets 1,500 or 1,600 frames. Per­haps 15 per­cent of those will be sharp enough to “stack” to come up with the fi­nal im­age. “I use soft­ware to help me an­a­lyze the frames, and it sorts them from best to worst,” he ex­plained. “When you stack, you’re ba­si­cally tak­ing all the best frames and av­er­ag­ing them to­gether with the soft­ware.

“The big thing I have to tackle is at­mo­spheric tur­bu­lence. I’m shoot­ing some­thing 93 mil­lion miles away through a lot of at­mos­phere and ev­ery­thing makes the sub­ject move, whether it’s heat com­ing


off the as­phalt roofs and drive­ways nearby, or the jet stream above Buf­falo. This is what we call ‘as­tro­nom­i­cal see­ing’ and it is the lim­it­ing fac­tor for any­body tak­ing pic­tures of the so­lar sys­tem.”

Fried­man’s tech­nol­ogy yields mono­chrome im­ages. He adds color him­self. “That’s part of the aes­thetic process and part of what makes my im­ages look dif­fer­ent than those of oth­ers: There are thou­sands of so­lar pho­tog­ra­phers out there. It’s just part of the sto­ry­telling process. The so­lar work has been my niche for a pe­riod of time. I had a lit­tle vi­ral run with an im­age I pub­lished in 2010, and since then I’ve been looked to for this work. I think what I’m do­ing tells a story that’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than other peo­ple are telling, and I feel I have more sto­ries in me for a while.”

Fried­man has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in fine art and comes from a print­mak­ing back­ground. Af­ter col­lege, he wanted to make a liv­ing at some­thing re­lated to that pro­fes­sion, so he opened a card com­pany. Great Ar­row Graph­ics, his day job, has been in busi­ness for al­most 40 years. “We’re the only com­pany in the coun­try that does silkscreen greet­ing cards, al­though there used to be a man in Al­bu­querque who did that and who had a retail shop there.” In the early years, Fried­man’s cards boasted his own work; to­day the com­pany li­censes work from 130 con­tribut­ing artists from around the world.

He came to as­tron­omy as a young father. “When the kids were lit­tle, I had a tele­scope in the back­yard for the lit­tle free time par­ents have, at night.” Doug Le­vere has a sim­i­lar story when asked about the be­gin­ning of his garage-based snowflake pho­tog­ra­phy. “That’s right, and I’m a pho­tog­ra­pher for a univer­sity so I am not able to do my art all the time. Part of my story and why I’m do­ing snowflakes has to do with how much time’s avail­able.”

It so hap­pens that he and Fried­man are both from Long Is­land, both went to the Univer­sity of Buf­falo, and both have busi­nesses (Great Ar­row and Dou­glas Le­vere Pho­tog­ra­phy) in the Tri- Main Cen­ter in Buf­falo. An­other cor­re­spon­dence they are fond of not­ing may be a bit of a stretch: If you hold your arm out, your pinky nail will ap­prox­i­mately cover the sun in the sky, and the largest snowflake is about the size of a pinky nail. A long­time pho­tog­ra­pher, Le­vere is the au­thor of New York Chang­ing: Re­vis­it­ing Berenice Ab­bott’s New York (Prince­ton Ar­chi­tec­tural Press, 2004). For that pro­ject, he was in­spired both by Ab­bott’s 1939 clas­sic Chang­ing New York and by Mark Klett’s re-pho­tog­ra­phy of western U.S. land­scapes that were orig­i­nally shot in the 19th cen­tury by Wil­liam Henry Jack­son, Ti­mothy O’Sul­li­van, and oth­ers.

Le­vere’s ear­li­est pic­tures were made with a lit­tle Keystone 110 cam­era his father gave him. For the snowflake work, he uses a Canon dig­i­tal SLR with a 5x mi­cro­scope lens. “I’ve only been do­ing this for about three years,” he said. “Ken­neth Lib­brecht is the king of snowflakes. We had a few of his pho­tos on the wall of my son’s room for years. In what Lib­brecht has writ­ten, he’s very gen­er­ous about his process, but he held a few tech­niques back. He tells you what lens to use, but he doesn’t tell you, for ex­am­ple, that the lens also needs a tube lens be­hind it. I’ve fig­ured out a cou­ple of things my­self.”

He also likes the work of Cana­dian pho­tog­ra­pher Don Ko­marechka, who shoots snowflakes from the front, against a black back­ground, so they’re quite re­al­is­tic. Le­vere’s process, il­lu­mi­nat­ing them from below, re­sults in im­ages that look as if the snowflake forms are em­bossed in metal. There are also some sur­pris­ing shapes, in­clud­ing an asym­met­ri­cal hexagon with what ap­pears to be a hole in the cen­ter and no branches — it looks more like a steel au­to­mo­bile em­blem than a snowflake. “I don’t think it has a hole in the cen­ter,” the pho­tog­ra­pher said. “I think it’s opaque. I’ve never seen a snowflake with a hole in it. That one is tiny and it’s ac­tu­ally the be­gin­ning of a snowflake. They grow from the cen­ter out.

“The other part of this pro­ject is that I live in Buf­falo, and it’s been so neg­a­tively por­trayed be­cause of the snow. Pho­tograph­ing snowflakes in this city that is just a laugh­ing­stock all around the coun­try for snow is a joy. And th­ese things are such beau­ti­ful ob­jects.”

Le­vere works when it is cold and snow­ing, and he also stacks. Most of his im­ages re­quire up to 50 ex­po­sures, which are fo­cused at slightly dif­fer­ent depths. “I’m ba­si­cally us­ing Photoshop, where I’ll or­ga­nize them so they’re all lay­ered in one file. My setup is a lit­tle Rube Gold­berg, but this is called ‘ fo­cus stack­ing.’ The soft­ware finds the parts that are sharp and puts them all to­gether.” The great range of snowflake forms is the re­sult of many sub­tle fac­tors, among them dif­fer­ent hu­midi­ties and tem­per­a­tures. “It’s not com­pletely pre­dictable. There are charts that will give you some idea, but you re­ally can’t know what that one flake has gone through.”

Le­vere dis­cov­ered Fried­man’s work four and a half years ago. Their new show is the cul­mi­na­tion of an idea the two pho­tog­ra­phers talked about soon af­ter they met. “Dou­glas and I would like to build this,” Fried­man said. “We love this process of en­joy­ing one an­other’s work and that helps us to be ex­cited about our own.”


▼ Fire and Ice: Alan Fried­man and Dou­glas Le­vere

▼ Open­ing re­cep­tion 5 p.m. Fri­day, Jan. 29 (artist talk 2 p.m., Satur­day, Jan. 30); ex­hibit through April 2

▼ Photo- eye Gallery, 541 S. Guadalupe St., 505-988-5152

Dou­glas Le­vere: top, Snowflake 2014.02.09.011; bot­tom, Snowflake 2014.02.09.007; right, Snowflake 2014.02.09.010; op­po­site page, Alan Fried­man: So­larsaurus, Septem­ber 16.2015; all archival pig­ment prints

Alan Fried­man: 2013 May 31 Ul­travi­o­let, archival pig­ment print

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