Roger Ressmeyer figures he’s dodged death at least 15 times while photographing volcanos and earthquakes and other forces of nature, but faced those dangerous situations with peace and calm, always figuring he’d be OK. So it’s amusing that he admitted to being a little nervous giving a talk for about a hundred people at his first photography exhibit in 17 years. Ressmeyer spoke Thursday at a reception marking the opening of his exhibit, The Beginning of Totality, which runs through Jan. 30 at the ArtsWest Gallery in West Seattle.
Ressmeyer made a name for himself as a celebrity photographer beginning in the ’70s, and his work graced music album covers, book jackets, People magazine, and others. He had a boyhood interest in space and astronomy, however, and by the mid-’80s began to point his camera up at a different type of star.
“In my career I’ve been able to witness some of the most astounding events that humankind can ever experience,” Ressmeyer said. “I’m lucky that as a young boy I became fascinated with outer space. All I wanted to do was to photograph the things that I got to photograph later for National Geographic and other publications.”
As suggested by the title of the exhibit, Ressmeyer is especially fascinated with the total eclipse of the Sun.
“During totality of a solar eclipse, the range of light that the human eye can see is beyond any other experience you’ll have under normal conditions,” he noted. “From the brilliant burst of sunlight to the last little speck of light that causes the diamond ring, to the outer corona, to the effect of the lighting on the environment, its like walking into a world where suddenly your eyes are given a whole other dimension of depth.”
For the photographer and other viewers, viewing a total solar eclipse is an emotional event.
“Once totality hits, even people who have seen many eclipses start making orgasmic sounds,” Ressmeyer said. “It is an amazing experience.”
He saw and photographed his first solar eclipse at age 15, and has now seen 11 of them.
The exhibit includes several photographs of solar eclipses and other astronomical subjects, including comet Hale-Bopp, the Moon rising over a cathedral in Moscow, Russia, a sunset at Stonehenge, a space shuttle launch, and the dishes of the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Also on display at ArtsWest are Ressmeyer’s photos of volcanic eruptions, an amazing thunderstorm over Chicago, and the aftermath of an earthquake. His work has appeared in scores of publications, including Life, Time, Newsweek, Discover, Smithsonian, The New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic.
They’re all astounding.
In 1985 Ressmeyer sold the rights to his photos to Bill Gates and Corbis. Since then the photographer has mostly worked as an administrator, first for Corbis and then for Getty Images. He didn’t find that time so fulfilling for his heart and soul.
“This exhibit represents me coming out of the hole,” he explained. “I have had a reawakening. I am in the vortex as Abraham-Hicks would call it. I am being spiritually guided. Going through and creating this exhibit represents to me rediscovering that side of myself.”
Ressmeyer also is getting back into photography with a new agency called Science Faction, which aims to showcase extraordinary photography.
“Science Faction represents the work of some of the world’s greatest science photographers. We’re trying to maintain a ‘Mercedes Benz’ kind of place,” Ressmeyer said. “We represent photographers whose work can’t be replicated by amateurs with digital cameras. You can’t get access to what these guys do.” They’re photographers with million-dollar observatories or electron microscopes in their basements.
The Beginning of Totality runs at ArtsWest through Jan. 30. Fans of astronomy and photography should not miss it. Admission is free. The gallery is open from noon until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.