December 2, 2012

Stars align for Bates, Space shows

By Daniel Kany

(Continued from page 1)

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“Photopic Sky Survey” by Nick Risinger

Images courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art

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“Neptune and Triton” by Michael Benson

Additional Photos Below


WHAT: "Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography," curated by Anthony Shostak WHERE: Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston

WHEN: Through Dec. 15 HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; until 7 p.m. Wednesday INFO: 786-6158;

WHAT: "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer,"curated by Liz Sheehan

WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through Dec. 20

HOURS: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and by chance or appointment

INFO: 828-5600;;

Most of the images of "Starstruck" are the colorful star and dusty cosmic cloud photos we often see reproduced. But they are magnificent -- and more so for being together.

Together, their meanings gather momentum; they create context and shed light on each other. Any is worth hours of study, but just running your eyes over the group for a matter of minutes might bring you to conclusions beyond what you thought you could imagine.

Too often, we think of photography as a flawed analog limited by the human eye. But photography can show us things we can't see. Combined with computers, multiple shots from smaller lenses can see things huge telescopes can't. This idea, illustrated beautifully by the web-originated images of Damian Peach, was largely new to me.

With light, white is the result of all colors. By using filters, we are able to see differently colored things within the white galactic dust -- and programs like Photoshop can create visual distinctions between, say, the similar reds of sulphur and hydrogen ions.

Astrophotographers now commonly use the "Hubble palette" -- a set of conventions for conveying certain invisible wavelengths as colors. It's a reminder that color is not a quality of objects but the conventional translation of wavelength data by our brains.

Indeed, photography can show us the invisible.

Photography's conventions also make it understandable. For example, when the diffraction spikes of some bright spots don't line up with others, we know the image was "stitched" (compiled from multiple photos) such as in Robert Gendler's "Great Nebula in Orion."

In many ways, the star of the show is Nick Risinger's 10-foot-wide "Photopic Sky Survey." It comprises 37,440 exposures revealing a 360-degree view of the night sky in a 5,000-megapixel image. It's a mind-boggling scientific document that began as a work of conceptual art.

"Starstruck" is just as likely to change your understanding of photography and art as change your understanding of the universe. And it will change your understanding of the universe.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:


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Additional Photos

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“Blue Moon Eclipse” by Jean-Paul Roux

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“Cassini 17” by Thomas Ruff

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A piece from the Nathalie Miebach series “Changing Waters"

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