Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Eight Years Ago

Now that Barack Obama's presidency has been underway for over a full 24 hours, I have to be honest and ask myself if I don't truly regret going to DC for the inauguration. By all the accounts from the photographers I've followed, it was definitely a cold and crowded situation and it appears that just getting in and out of The Mall would have been a full day's work. I don't think I would have had the mobility or vantage point that I would've liked, but then again it definitely would have been cool to see what 1.5 million people looks like. At any rate, I'm not too upset by having stayed here (I watched/photographed the event from Times Square), and it was a real treat watching the recaps on television last night on our brand new high-definition TV.

This past summer over the 4th of July I spent four nights in DC, my longest stay ever there. Yesterday and today I've been recalling a lot of experiences from that trip in trying to gather my mental bearings of how DC is layed out, which direction is which, etc. But I've also been thinking a lot about one of my first visits to DC, in January of 2001, for George W. Bush's first inauguration. That was also a widely-attended event, not so much because of the inauguration as much as the protest to the inauguration. I've always said that experience was my first real taste of protest/dissent/activism. I had just moved to NYC five months prior and going to DC to cover the protests felt like a big assignment to me.
I overheard last night on ABC that the DC Police Department hadn't reported a single arrest throughout the day. Surely, I thought, there had to be some sort of protest where people were getting angry. I'm not thinking so much about angry folks protesting Obama's citizenship as much as anarchist types who aren't going to be happy no matter who's in office. Apparently there was one protest regarding Guantanamo Bay, but it was more of a call for Obama to close it. Quite an opposite image from the egg-tossing and angry banners of 2001:

I am pretty optimistic about the next four years. That being said, I really think there's only one direction we can go as a country. To me, this inauguration seems to have the vibe of one big three-weeks-delayed New Year's Resolution. I just hope we can start getting some traction toward solving this economic crisis and withdrawing troops responsibly from Iraq. I'm worried Americans are going to become impatient with Obama. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Hopefully, four years from now, we'll be in a vastly different position and hurtling headlong on a peaceful trajectory into 2013.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pete Souza

I'm a little slow in getting around to this topic, but I wanted to take a moment to commend the Obama Administration on the appointment of Pete Souza as Official White House Photographer. I can't think of a better selection for this post. I've had the honor of knowing Souza since the early 90s, when I was a freshman at Kansas State University. Souza was a grad student at K-State in the late 70s and he's remained an active alumnus ever since. In 2001, I volunteered alongside Souza and other former K-State photographers to mentor current K-Staters during an intensive spring break photography workshop in Salina, Kansas. The last time I saw Souza was 2004, when he was in New York photographing the lead up to the Republican National Convention. We met up for a beer and that turned into several beers and afterwards I foolishly convinced him to check out the view of downtown from my rooftop as a lightning storm was underway. The next day I was petrified when I discovered a few people had been killed doing the exact same thing less than a mile away.

My knowledge of Barack Obama is synonymous with the images of Pete Souza. With the title of National Photographer for the Chicago Tribune, Souza photographed Obama's first year in the Senate, including his first Senatorial trip overseas in 2005, to Russia, as well as Obama's historic trip to Africa the following year. And so it was no surprise to see Souza was there in Springfield, Illinois in early 2007, photographing Obama alone backstage as he collected his thoughts moments before announcing his candidacy. I can't wait to see the images Souza gets in the coming days as well as in the next several months, and I wish him the best of luck.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


For Christmas, I got the seven-disk box set of the Carl Sagan television science series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. A few minutes into the first episode, I thought the whole "Spaceship of the Imagination" thing was going to be totally cheesy. But very quickly I became glued to it. Watching five of the 13 hour-long episodes has dovetailed nicely with an another animated stills movie I had been working on throughout December, one that's based entirely on NASA imagery. Since I've already dealt with the moon a lot on this blog, the piece I want to show you focuses mostly on Mars and Saturn. A lot of the images from Mars are from Spirit and Opportunity, the two rovers on the surface of the planet (plus a few images taken by Mars Global Surveyor). And then it's on to Saturn, where the Cassini satellite has been snapping pictures of the ringed planet since its arrival in 2004. The movie comprised of all this awesome NASA imagery can be seen here.

"Cosmos" was created in the late 1970s, which was right as Voyager 1 and 2 were returning data from Jupiter and Saturn. Aside from all the science those two probes have radioed back to Earth, it really makes me ponder the size of the Solar System. I did a quick search to find the speed at which Voyager 1 and 2 are flying through space and found that it's about 10 miles per second. Light, on the other hand, travels at 186,000 miles per second, which is nearly 6 trillion miles per year. I looked up which star way out there is closest to us (the binary star Alpha Centauri, a name I quickly recognized from grade school) and learned that it's 4.37 light years away from the Sun. Now, even though neither Voyager probe is headed directly toward Alpha Centauri, it's utterly mind-boggling to me to realize that it would require over 80,000 years for one of these probes to travel such a distance. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong on the calculation, but is that not just a totally daunting realization?