Volume 8 • Number 3 • August, 2015
The Shot of a Lifetime!
The Shot of a Lifetime!
by Huntington Witherill
Only in men's imagination does truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. – Joseph Conrad (1912)
Sometimes an event of such momentous import occurs that it manages to stop you dead in your tracks. For me, such an event occurred on July 14, 2015. And I suspect that it likely occurred for you, as well.
By way of setup... having recently pondered the subject of objectivity and its tenuous relationship to photography (in the most recent past issue of this newsletter, here) it was a befitting irony that, not two weeks after completing that essay, I was treated (along with the rest of the world) to a spectacularly fine example of what might genuinely be described as unimpeachable objectivity in relation to the photographic medium. Despite having taken care (within my essay) to assert that photography’s overall lack of objectivity was being confined to acts of artist self-expression, I can’t help but now marvel at the medium’s additional capacity to occasionally reveal awe-inspiring displays of undeniable objectivity. And I also can’t help but now be chuckling at just how excited I am to be sharing something with you that you so obviously already know. :-)
In a tour de force that must surely be regarded as a singularly staggering technical achievement (not to mention being one of the ultimate "wow" moments that I’ve witnessed during my lifetime) on July 14, 2015 the New Horizons spacecraft flew by the dwarf planet, Pluto, taking a series of pictures that are destined to expand our overall understanding of the Universe. When it comes to objectivity in photography, it’s pretty difficult to imagine the medium being much more functionally objective (let alone more thoroughly exciting and charged with a sense of inspiration and wonder) than it was on July 14, 2015!
After more than nine years of travel at speeds in excess of 36,000 mph – in what I’ve come to affectionately refer to as: The granddaddy of all photographic field trips! – New Horizons had traveled a distance of more than 3 billion miles to pass within 7,750 miles of Pluto. And with but a brief window of opportunity during the flyby, "Lorri" and "Ralph" (the spacecraft’s main optical cameras) took a series of photographs that will be critically evaluated by scientists, and visually marveled at by the masses, for countless years to come. I don’t know about you, but just contemplating the spectacularly colossal nature of such an astounding achievement has brought me to tears on a couple of occasions.
The idea of sending a spacecraft – described as being the overall size and shape of a grand piano – to the furthest reaches of our Solar System, while zeroing in on a target with such pinpoint accuracy that it could be fairly compared to launching a grain of sand from Long Island, NY and having it successfully hit the center of a 10-inch target located in West Los Angeles, CA – and then… while moving past its primary objective at speeds in excess of 10 miles per second, taking a series of precisely targeted pictures under lighting conditions that are the equivalent of what we normally see on Earth, at night, with nothing more than the illumination of a quarter-moon... this is the kind of magic that simply does not happen every day!
Once again I find myself being emotionally uplifted by photography’s immense capacity to add meaning, purpose, enrichment, and a sense of wonder to our lives. There is something about the ability to see what otherwise cannot be seen that makes photography a unique and truly remarkable endeavor.
Perhaps my unbridled enthusiasm and sheer sense of amazement with all of this has something to do with contemplative notions of actually being there, in the Kuiper Belt, each time I view the breathtaking pictures that are being sent back to Earth. Or, maybe it has to do with the idea that the nine years required for the spacecraft to finally get there has somehow magically dissolved in my consciousness, thereby allowing me to experience the vicarious thrill of being magically "beamed-aboard" New Horizons via Star Trek’s mythical transporter mechanism. No matter. The extraordinary achievement of it all leaves me with a decidedly verklempt sense of inestimable awe and outright wonderment. Goodness gracious!
Seems to me that there are few things in life that have the potential to create the kinds of thought provoking inspiration that New Horizons has. When I think back on all of the phenomenal space exploration that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness during my lifetime, the New Horizons mission has most assuredly topped them all! Truth be told, I can't imagine ever being witness to another more spiritually and emotionally uplifting event during the remainder of my days.
Such remarkable achievements by mankind – as rare as they seemingly are in this day and age – serve to remind me of just how blessed and lucky I am to have been witness to the very best that humanity has to offer. As a means to inspire us all to greater heights of reverence, inspiration, hope, and accomplishment, the New Horizons mission has, in so many ways, provided humanity with the shot of a lifetime!
I'm sure glad I was here to see it!"