Astrophotographs on display at the Grand

Sep 9, 2011


That part of Hancock’s story rings true to me. My first glimpses of the wonders of the far-out were through a small Tasco-brand refracting telescope that I bought at Kmart, using the Furton family capital purchase plan: I paid half and my parents paid half. I paid with money I saved from delivering the Chicago Tribune in suburban Chicago.

Hancock’s astrographs are delightful, and it is fitting that the ArtWalk 2011 venue for his work is the Dee-Lite Bar and Grill, 24 Washington Ave.; and Grand Theatre Bar, 22 Washington Ave.

A preview of the collection of photographs on display presently at the Grand is available online at Hancock’s flickr site: One of the flickr images teases at a grand piece yet to be installed.

I highly recommend a look at Hancock’s astrographs while they are in town. The images are exquisite blends of art and science.

Capturing images that show faint wisps of dust around stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, or the swirling spiral arms and dark dust lanes in distant spiral galaxies is not work for the impatient or undetermined.

All of Hancock’s images are built up from tens of sub-images captured over many clear nights of observing. The final images are assembled digitally and reveal detail that is invisible to the unaided eye.

Our eyes and the visual system in our brain form images more like video cameras than like still cameras. To give us a keen sense of motion, we process the information stream from our eyes into discrete scenes at a rate of something like 30 frames per second.

Our eyes can only see things that are sufficiently bright because we cannot stare indefinitely into seemingly dark space to build up an image like a still camera can. With a still camera, if a scene is poorly lit, the photographer can hold the camera lens open longer to form a properly exposed image — provided he can hold the camera still.

Astrophotographs like Mr. Hancock’s reveal detail that is forever invisible to our eyes, even if we look through a telescope — because the astrophotographers who capture them allow their cameras to accumulate hours and, in some cases, days of light.

And bear in mind that all celestial targets steadily move across the sky, owing to the rotation of the Earth. This complication requires an astrophotographer to attach his camera to a mount that is capable of precisely tracking the drifting targets. That’s the science.

The art, as any photographer knows, is the thoughtful selection, framing and composition of one’s subjects.

Mr. Hancock’s work will be on display at the Grand Theatre Bar throughout ArtWalk 2011.

— By Doug Furton, a member of the physics faculty at GVSU. Send questions and suggestions to


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