Fine art

The truth is up there

‘Our World by Starlight’ photography exhibition explores mystery of night skies

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To look at the night sky is to look into the eye of creation — a vast mystery that astonishes and humbles. A new series by Taos photographer Barry Norris explores the starry skyscapes of the night. Taken in Taos, Wyoming and Mexico, Norris’ photographs combine star-studded skies with elements of earthly landscapes for an exquisite peek into the worlds that lie beyond our own.

“Our World by Starlight” opens with a reception Saturday (Dec. 2) from 4-6 p.m. at Barry Norris Studio, 1205 Cisneros Road in El Prado. There will be refreshments and the public is invited free of charge. The exhibit will be on view until Jan. 8, 2018.

Norris said his interest in photography dates back to his childhood when he visited National Parks with his family. Using an Instamatic camera, Norris took slides of the landscapes that fascinated him. He also had an early interest in black-and-white printing, and began to develop his own slides. Norris went on to study printing in college.

Between 1977 and 1992, Norris lived and worked in Chiapas, Mexico, as a photographer and printer. In 1992, Norris, his wife Joan and son Chan moved to San Cristóbal, N.M. as their new home.

It was after moving to Mexico that Norris began using his photography as a way to document the people and places he cares about. “I wanted [my photography] to be more directed towards a fine arts documentary focus. I wanted it to have a more artful feel, and not just a strict documentary look,” Norris said.

For 30 years, Norris photographed in black and white. Then, he discovered color digital photography in the early 2000s. He realized that he could photograph the night sky with great precision and depth because of advanced digital sensors that allow for a very high shutter speed. Norris explained that the longer you leave the shutter open, the more stars will look like streaks in the resulting photograph. By using high shutter speeds together with a wide-angle lens, Norris has refined a technique for capturing extraordinary visions of star-filled skies.

“The wider the lens is, the longer you can leave the shutter open without streaking. You’re trying to find a shutter speed that would not make the stars appear to move that much. What that means is that … you can reveal a lot of detail and color in post-processing that is not really visible to the naked eye.”

“The magic and beauty comes in revealing detail and color that you really don’t see when you’re out in the field making the photographs,” Norris explained. “It’s a surprise.”

Norris said he was interested in documenting the night sky for some time before he tried it. He observed other people’s work on the subject, and then he went out and started taking his own pictures.

“I made some initial exposures, was dissatisfied, went back, learned how to do it better, did some studying and looked at ways to improve my work,” Norris said.

Over time he learned how to reduce the digital noise that is a problem in low-light photography. His efforts paid off. Norris’ photographs of the night sky are nothing short of stunning.

For his nighttime sky series, Norris collaborated with Taos Pueblo artist Jeralyn Lujan Lucero. Norris said Lucero saw a few of his nighttime photographs and approached him with the idea of photographing the night sky from Taos Pueblo. Lucero appears in some of the photographs dressed in her traditional Pueblo clothing.

“My photography is mostly about places I live and places I know. All of my photographs are about places personally important to me,” Norris said.

Norris and his family now split their time between their homes in San Cristóbal, New Mexico, and San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. They drive between their two homes, and some of the photographs for this exhibit are of places on what Norris refers to as “the trail” between his two homes. Another photograph, taken in Wyoming, documents the recent eclipse.

Commenting on why the night sky is an important subject, Norris said, “Half the time we’re alive, that’s how we see our world. And, it is pretty spectacular, you have to admit. It’s a world of wonder.”

“I guess today most people live in cities, and don’t get to see the night sky the way we get to see it,” Norris noted. “Even in the Town of Taos you can see the Milky Way from in town which is pretty amazing. Where I live in Mexico it’s the exact same elevation as where we live here. At that elevation, you get a spectacular night sky. I love it and I think everyone who sees it appreciates it.”

Reflecting on the meaning of stars, Norris said “Ancient societies spent a lot of time marking the movements of the heavens, and they knew a lot more about it. I believe they oriented their cities according to the movement of the planets, the sun, the rising and setting of the sun and the Milky Way. We’re learning more about it all the time through archaeoastronomy.”

Norris’ photographs are in private collections all over the world. He has held exhibitions in New York City; Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California; Santa Fe, Tres Piedras, and Taos; Austin, San Antonio and Boerne, Texas; and Mexico City and San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

This will be the first time in a few years that Norris will exhibit his own work in Taos, and marks a rare occasion to view some of his work.

Norris is the owner and operator of Barry Norris Studio, a direct digital capture and archival reproduction studio for artists. He opened his business in 2001 out of his home in San Cristóbal, just north of Taos. In 2005, he moved his business to the El Prado studio.

Barry Norris Studio is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (575) 737-0779 or email barrynorrisstudio@mac.com.

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