At 4 o’clock on a January morning, Chris M. Chandler embraced the cold weather (along with the hand warmers in the pockets of his coat) and walked from his room in Currier Quad to the track, carrying his digital camera and a tripod.
“I’ve always loved to take star pictures,” says Chandler, a sophomore from Longmeadow, Mass. On this particular morning he planned to combine this love with an assignment for his Winter Study class, “Landscape Photography.”
Knowing that the effects of sunrise or sunset would ruin the photograph he had in mind, Chandler wasn’t deterred by the unthinkable time (and temperature) of the shoot. The result? As his instructor Nicholas Whitman says of the photograph, pictured here: “It’s a beauty! … This is an example of photography expanding our vision.”
Chandler’s photo is a time exposure— 154 seconds, to be exact—of the track, Peck Grandstand and Weston Field looking toward campus. The steam of the power plant is illuminated by the lights of town, and you can see the movement of the stars as they rotate around the North Star.
The resulting image, Whitman says, is an “unconventional look at a conventional subject.” Whitman, a Williamstown-based photographer, has taught “Landscape Photography” each January since 2004. His 15 or so students vary in ability and experience and spend their time in the photo lab, local museums and locations around the Purple Valley.
For one assignment Whitman sends students to take a photo in the same location at the same time over a number of days, encouraging them to “increase their awareness of the world.”
While learning how to take beautiful photographs is the likely goal of many of his students, Whitman’s own intention goes beyond building skills. He aims to “sensitize them to light, time, the land, sky and weather. And to the emotional response they bring to the scene.”
Chandler, who plans to major in both mathematics and studio art, says the class offered him the understanding that landscape photography “is about thinking through the photo.” Especially if it means enduring a cold, solitary morning gazing at the stars.