Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘journalism’

The reclusive pioneer of Civil War photography studies

Today I was excited to see a front-page Washington Post story on William Frassanito, whom I first heard about when I was doing last year’s Optics & Photonics News article on photography in the American Civil War (available to OSA members — sorry).

At that time, I heard that Frassanito had been writing about Civil War photography since the 1970s and he was the pioneer in figuring out what the photographs tell us about the actual events that had taken place. Mostly, before then, historians had just treated the photographs as “window dressing” and didn’t care about them as important documents in their own right. Frassanito was the first to establish that Alexander Gardner had staged some shots, and he located the “split rock” that appeared in many of those photographs, so that the Park Service was able to correct the record that it presents to visitors.

While I was working on the story, I was told that Frassanito was pretty hard to get hold of, and I was fighting off a head cold too, so I didn’t spend a lot of time tracking him down. Plus, I try not to make phone calls to sources during the hours that Frassanito (according to the Post article) is actually awake, unless I’ve arranged an appointment beforehand via email with a scientist in a radically different time zone. And Frassanito doesn’t use email. But, hey, he’s got a Facebook page!

So I’ve signed up to follow his Facebook page, and if I ever decide to write anything more about Civil War photography, I’ll know where to track “Frazz” down.

Footnote unrelated to photography: This New York Post writer apparently believes that hardly anyone’s ever heard of Gen. George Meade, who “saved a nation.” Really? Ever driven through Maryland and seen signs for Fort Meade? Guess not.


Things that are just plain cool.

Sometimes I just like to share nifty things that I’ve found online.

First off: continuing the space theme from two days ago, I bring you First Orbit, a brilliantly conceived high-definition film blending Yuri Gagarin’s taped words from his Vostok capsule (with subtitles) with gorgeous modern footage from the International Space Station and a sparkling musical score. Gosh, I would love to see this on a big IMAX screen!

It’s also interesting to hear how many times Gagarin repeated to his ground-based capcoms (when they were in range) that he was “alert” and “feeling great.” It may seem repetitious — until you realize that no one before this had any idea what the experience would be like, whether a human being could survive at all.

Next, the National Science Foundation posted a Web article on the latest results from the international XENON100 dark-matter experiment. After 100 days, the team found no particular evidence for the existence of weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. (I didn’t make that name up!) Now, there is still plenty of observational clues to the existence of dark matter, especially from the motions of galaxies and the orbits of objects around galactic centers. But we still have no idea what this stuff is. Or, rather, scientists have some ideas, and WIMPs seem to be the best of the lot, but it won’t be the best hypothesis forever if the putative particles don’t start showing up in detectors.

I’ve been interested in science journalism since my college days — the first go-round in journalism, never mind the second time around in physics. The Nieman Journalism Lab muses on Quickish, a beta site that is supposed to “cut to the quick” of subjects without totally eschewing long-form stories. Quickish is all about sports, but one could speculate what a Quickish-like site focused on science, technology and health news would look like.

This week I also noticed that the Washington Post is using another beta site/app, Intersect, to allow readers to contribute to a photo project called “Recession Road.” Again, I see the potential for constructing multi-layered, multi-dimensional, multiple-timeline, complex stories. I just hope there are plans to create additional Intersect apps besides the one for the iPhone, because not all of us have iPhones.

Finally, from a Tumblr blogger … just click on these squares and makes some beautiful music of your own. Just play away, for the world needs more delight and dancing.