Alan Friedman’s backyard is full of cable wires, power lines, and trees. By night, many stars are occluded behind the haze of Buffalo’s lights. And yet he’s taken what may be the most unbelievable photographs of the sun that you’ve ever seen.
Friedman’s trick is to stack the odds in his favor using a technique called “lucky imaging.” With a webcam normally used to photograph passing license plates, he captures stellar black-and-white objects at 120 frames per second (or about five times faster than your average movie camera), picking the one needle in the haystack that’s perfectly sharp, unaffected by the slew of confounding variables in our atmosphere.
When I ask Friedman why his photography is so unique, he argues first that it isn’t, referencing all of the amateur photographers pointing their cameras into space. But he does admit some people see his work as different. “Perhaps the difference stems from my background as a designer and fine artist,” he concedes. “My interest is both scientific and expressive, and the work is a marriage of both.”
He continues: “When I began shooting the sun, everyone presented a yellow/orange disk against the black background of space. I began to experiment with different colorizations and reversing the tonality of the image,” Friedman explains. “The first time I inverted the disk of the sun to a negative, I was stunned by how it altered the perspective–how much more visible certain subtle structures became.”
He’s also not afraid to call his work photojournalism, citing that each time he inverts a value or tweaks a color he’s just exploring a new way to tell the sun’s story through a photograph–and as it’s a form of journalism, he also grapples with the debate of how far is too far, and when editing a photo begins to cloud its own truth. But in this regard, Friedman’s internal debates are no different than NASA’s hand-coloring of the mostly black-and-white images they suck in from space, depicting the majesty that our best physicists, armed with the most advanced photographic technologies, can still only see in their mind’s eye.
No doubt, his sun, be it inverted in black and white or painted with a fluorescent purple, feels like a more intimate portrait of our star than any I’ve ever seen. It’s a startling reminder: Even though we owe this glowing orb every morsel of our life, we sure don’t know it very well, do we?