Walking Into a Wall of Solid Cool

I only thought I had some kind of writer’s block. I wondered why all my other writing was just fine. My only problem for months now, with the blog, is that I have had so little to say.

It’s been a long, dark tea-time of the soul.

But on Friday, all that changed.


I had to write a personal profile for my Public Affairs Journalism class and was having trouble thinking of someone good. I asked my lovely NEMAC mentor for some ideas, but the ones she gave me just didn’t grab me. I Googled. I brainstormed.

Then I checked my Facebook friends, hoping to remember somebody who knew somebody or jiggle some brain cell loose that held an old memory of someone interesting whom I’d forgotten.

And right there the answer was in my Facebook friends: local entrepreneur and media visionary David McConville, IMO one of the most interesting people in town.

I’d collaborated online with him before, emailed him about an article, sort of knew him electronically. I emailed him and asked if I could profile him, and with a great-heartedness I would eventually realize was typical, he emailed me back in less than an hour, perfectly willing to talk to me.

We set up a lunch date for Saturday. BAM. There’s your interview, and with someone whose brain I’d like to pick for personal reasons to boot.

I never record interviews, but had never done an in-depth personal profile before. I decided to bring my recorder with me. THANK GOD I DID.

David McConville is a sort of monolithic quote experience for the reporter. He says virtually nothing uninteresting, and drops quotable phrases and fascinating insights with the ease most people reserve for stapling together two pieces of paper.

And to beat all, knowing I was doing a student assignment and not a piece that might snag him clients, he asked me if he was sufficiently on topic for what my professor wanted.

I left humbled as much by his polite, friendly helpful and down-to-earth nature as his massive media achievements, with a solid hour of good stuff.

And the starting gun for a great week sounded over West Asheville as I walked back to my car.


Monday was a photo shoot. I’ve been interning with the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center, and they’d actually bought a product made by McConville’s company, the Elumenati.

Elumenati GeoDome Portal

Elumenati GeoDome Portal

Some NEMAC people were getting trained on a GeoDome. NEMAC wanted pictures.

A GeoDome is a a sort of band shell-shaped inflatable dome cinema screen NEMAC uses to show NASA Digital Universe software, a gorgeous, cosmic software offering that shows 3-D models of the observable universe.

And by observable universe, I mean out to the limits.

It’s totally badass. As a planetarium nerd from way back, I think the GeoDome is the most fucking awesome thing in town.

I took some pics of the dome’s setup. It’s inflatable, and can be blown up in the time it takes a student photographer to slip out to the bathroom and come back to find a lost photo op.

They blew it up and hooked up the laptop and projector. And then they turned the lights off and loaded the software.

And it was all over.

I was entranced. I was doubly entranced. By the GeoDome, and by the strange machine called a Nikon D-50 that captured the beauty of this portal to infinity.

I wandered around the way photographers do, with that license to crouch and kneel and walk around with a machine attached to their face, snapping and changing position and snapping again.

Time stopped. Everyone went to lunch. I stayed behind in the half-dark.

When they left I didn’t think this thought in word-particles, but in a wave of pure emotion: They’re all gone. I can take all the pictures I want now.

Timelessness happened. I played with the camera, played with the light, felt a cool blue joy when the machine in my hands make something wonderful with the scene my eyes behold with the innocent rapture of the nerd.

I love the quiet of these images, the hard William Gibson crunch of the science of them, the intimacy of the closeness to the the beautiful machines who so dutifully show us such beauty. The illusory nature of the projections, being made of light, and therefore short one whole dimension.

I kicked off my shoes and took a good hundred snaps or so. Eventually time started running again, but not before I took a picture of my own hand, black against the bright sea-blue screen, to put some part of myself into that scene forever.

When I was done I was sweaty and high. I felt less like I stopped photographing and more like I had come to.

I coalesced back into the fleshly world, slipped my shoes on and joined my co-workers in the breakroom.

I don’t know if I have yet been the same.


I wish I could say that the images I took showed the rapture and flow I felt while taking them. I don’t think they do.

I think they are clearly the work of someone who knows a little about photography (which I’ve been studying formally in Photojournalism class since January — the dome was my second shoot for the class), and who has a good camera and an inkling of how to wrangle its complexity into compelling images.

I mostly think they show less skill than pure, childlike fascination.

God put a Nikon to my eye and now I can hardly imagine what I will do when I must turn it back over to NEMAC.


Tuesday I spent trying to hack my way into the complexity of representing a whole person in words.

Wednesday I shot a dome again, NEMAC’s own dome on their Enka campus.

“This is what really taught me about the dark side of the moon,” said a programmer running the NASA software, gazing at the moon orbiting the earth, so clearly and purely showing as they circled one another that all an Earth observer ever sees is the moon’s bright and public face, not the darker, scarred one it hides from Earth forever like a shameful secret.

And then I went to the Asheville Twestival, where I saw some friends, was too shy to ask for tips on handling my Nikon, and learned that my lovely magic box loses its magic when asked to take pictures of parties and not space domes.

In my hands, it likes to take pictures of the Oort cloud.


Thursday I  transcribed an hour of pure  good quotestuff.


Friday, lucky me, I shot the dome again.

I wanted to hang out with David McConville one more time for the purposes of the profile, and also I just wanted to see the dome again, and take more pictures.

A group of students were coming to the Elumenati studios for a tour of the cosmos, and I asked to come along. This time we all got into a GeoDome Theater 25 feet high.

I tried some cool shutter effects.

Little Nikon, how I love you.

David loved the images. Before the week was out, I was told that NEMAC, the Elumenati and my city’s local alternative weekly were all interested in using images I had taken. From zero to photographer in one magical, beautiful 55-hour week.

The Elumenati want to use me again to take more images of the domes. The campus is interested in having me shoot an upcoming event.

I don’t think I’m a camera wunderkind. I think I’m cheap, I’m lucky and I take photography seriously enough to have learned a lot in two months and four shoots.

And especially when shooting the domes, I see with the eyes of a nine-year-old child who just walked into a wall of solid cool.

And with the jolt of impact, the stories have started again.


Flickr sets here and here.

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