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Astronomer aims his telescope at the heavens to capture unique photographic images
Story Julie Weslowski; photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89
In an unassuming backyard of a home in Buffalo, Alan Friedman, BFA ’77, sets up his telescope equipment, aims it at the sky and begins filming one single celestial object in outer space at 15 frames per second. Later, with the help of a computer program, he will carefully sift through thousands of images from the film, painstakingly hand-selecting multiple images of the same subject to layer together as a composite image—be it a planet, the sun, the moon or even the International Space Station.
To see examples of Friedman’s celestial work, go to his website.
The end result, sometimes taking years of filming to complete, transforms science photographs into unique works of art, earning him worldwide accolades from professional astronomers at NASA, widespread attention with features on nationally televised morning shows, and millions of visits to his blog (www.avertedimagination.com) and other websites where his photography is featured.
Admittedly, Friedman was always interested in photography, though he only became involved in astrophotography a little over a decade ago when a neighbor brought out a telescope and he had a chance to view Saturn. Afterward, he bought his first telescope, and seven telescopes later he was hooked. “I love using the camera. I always have,” he says. “It was a logical step for me when I got into looking at the heavens to want to record what I was seeing.”
And yet this isn’t Friedman’s day job. A graduate of the BFA program in printmaking, where he met his wife Donna Massimo, MA ’90 & BFA ’75, he is president and CEO of Great Arrow Graphics, a Buffalo-based company he and his wife founded in 1984. During the early days of the business, he was a designer responsible for creating as many as 300 new card concepts each year. These days he concentrates on running the company. “But I still do art direction. I write copy and select images,” he says.
Now along with his responsibilities to Great Arrow and his personal astro-photography, Friedman serves as a research associate at the Buffalo Museum of Science. He donates his time to astronomy programming at the museum and even brings his rare and incredibly powerful Astro-Physics 10-inch f14.6 Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, only one of 32 in existence, to the museum for stargazing and photography.
Friedman explains that there’s a strong difference between astronomers who work in the field and astronomers who, like himself, are amateurs. But he says that what he lacks in a science degree he makes up for with his training in the aesthetic dimension of celestial photography. “I love the science of this, but we have spaceships up there doing incredible science,” Friedman says. “For me, it’s the art. It’s presenting the story and telling the different take on it.”
Astrology sign “Astronomers tend to cringe at anything having to do with astrology. … But doing public events I meet a lot of folks who follow their horoscope and I find they know more than the average person about what’s up in the sky above. I’m a Taurus, and a very typical one at that!”
Favorite non-starry subject to photograph People. My wife and daughters are beautiful, ever-changing subjects that I photograph a lot.”
Favorite UB professor and why “If I had to pick a favorite it would be [SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus] Harvey Breverman in the art department. He was a working artist, a fantastic and dedicated teacher, wonderfully idiosyncratic, and a good friend up to this day.”