Sunday, August 28, 2005


Roger Ressmeyer Lecture 27 August 2005 Palomar College, San Diego CA

Last night Eric Blackhurst (local astrophotographer) and Roger Ressmeyer gave lectures at a local college. The food was great, there were demo scopes set up outside, plenty of camera geeks wandering around eating the amazing food, and the lectures themselves were astounding.

Roger shot for National Geographic for years. I gained a tremendous amount of respect for how much was and could be done inside the body of a film camera. The crossover point for film/digital quality parity, which happened about two years ago, was foreseen by Roger, and he described feelings of at first great disappointment as early versions of photoshop "took all the fun out of" photography.

After a hiatus, he came back with a vengeance, and became an almost unrivaled science and space photographer. His career includes quite the eclectic assortment of subjects. He seems to have an almost preternatural knack for talking his way past the palace guards to take photos of scientific experiments, apparatus, and people, all while being places he shouldn't be and all while getting shots that shouldn't have turned out as well as they did, as often as they did. It's hard to figure out what kind of exposure you need for high-powered lasers, for example. Or how long exactly you need to expose for the radiation from spent fuel rods in nuclear reactor storage pools to show up on the film.

An engaging, open, honest speaker - he describes being a photographer as requiring an enormous ego. He describes himself as someone that no one would want to know, during the absolute height of his career. He mentioned personal stories along with the professional ones, and explained how in the course of time he came to a different way of looking at the world, and that over the next 10 to 15 years, he plans to revisit and reshoot some of the places that have given him his best photos. This is truly exciting, because his photos are some of the best of the large telescopes, scientific and space places, and natural events.

I was most impressed by the fact that he got to see all of the color mags from all of the later Apollo missions. These are originals. The crispness and clarity are breathtaking. The personalities of the astronauts, the views of the surface of the moon, the earth from the moon, and spacecraft shots that simply are not published and have not been seen since the film was locked away in a freezer... well, it made permanent goosebumps on my arms. My mouth dropped open and I felt the entire lecture hall audience lean forward in their seats, their attention completely subsumed in the images, when these shots were projected on the massive screen behind Roger.

Some people have a knack for photography. Some people have a knack for social engineering - the art of talking their way in and out of things. It's a rare person that combines them, but this is a feller that did.

A fantastic lecture delivered in down-to-earth, gently irreverant and honest style was perfectly accented by selected photos. The inspirational effect that this lecture had on the people there will be remembered for a very long time I'm sure.

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