There are powerful, crystallized feelings that are experienced when skiing and snowboarding the backcountry of Arizona. They are mysterious, fantastic, gigantic, fleeting, and always require attention. Most backcountry photographs capture a thin cross-section or single layer of these feelings. This project was born as an attempt to explore new ways to convey those feelings.
The setup began with immense planning around the position of the Milky Way rising in relation to Fremont Peak depending on the time of night. Under the warm winter sun we began by hiking and then snowshoeing up to the inner basin arriving just before sundown. Troy continued on in the waning light and begin ascending up the north side avalanche chute to prepare for the light painting once it was dark enough. Abe remained in the middle valley and set up two cameras capturing alternate angles of the mountain. Over the next few hours communicating via radio we went back and forth and getting the angle and perspective just right.
We had planned to stay till the early hours of the morning to capture the Milky Way rising behind the peak and digitally stitch the images together for an incredible blend of night sky and earthen art. As the night went on, the brighter than expected Flagstaff light pollution mixed with a growing amount of clouds, forcing us to decide on a different location to expose the stars above. Finally just before midnight in well below freezing temperatures we began our long journey down the mountain to our campsite.
The inner basin of the San Francisco Peaks is not often visited, especially in winter under a dark moonless night sky. Flagstaff, Arizona was the world’ s first International Dark Sky City and still after growing year over year has spectacularly dark skies for a city of its size. The cosmos above we believe should be able to be experienced by everyone.
What exactly is visible in the Milky Way? The bright colorful arm reaching out from the Milky Way is what’s known as the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex. It is a dark nebula of gas and is one of the closest star forming regions to our Solar System at a distance of 130 parsecs. A parsec is equal to about 3.26 light years or 19 trillion miles. Moving down and to the left there are two small red patches of color in the central band of the Milky Way. The one to the lower right is the Cats Paw Nebula or NGC 6334. It gets its name from resembling a cats paw print in the snow or dirt. Moving directly above Fremont Peak is the true center of our galaxy. The bright pink patch with a bright white interior is the Lagoon Nebula also known as Messier 8 (M8). It is a massive interstellar cloud in the constellation Sagittarius and was discovered in 1654. It is one of only two star forming nebula visible to the naked eye from northern latitudes. It is estimated to be between 4,000-6,000 light years away.
This is the first image of an ongoing project as we discover new methods and places for mixing the beauty of the cosmos with an artistic human element.
Light Painting & Art Design: Troy Marino
Image Capture & Processing: Abe Snider
Below are some images from the setup and final planning phase, hours before we started shooting.