Stargazing at Sokcho.
Photographs by Boo Moon.
Nazraeli Press, Tucson, 2006. 24 pp., 19 four-color illustrations, 17x13".
Each semester, one of my former professors would open his basic photography course with the statement "Photography is magic." Magic because it makes images that literally and directly touch reality. The directness of optical reproduction, however, rarely translates the essence of subjective experience. Photography easily describes, isolates, categorizes, but too seldom seems magical in its presentation of unmediated perception. An example: photography has always done a poor job of conveying the full sense of gazing into the sky on a perfect, clear, dark night-until now. Certainly photography has given us an incredible extension of sight into the sky, showing galaxies, planets, eclipses and much more in close detail. Stargazing, the latest book from Korean photographer Boo Moon, manages also to convey the essential wonder of standing on firm ground and being enveloped by the wholeness of the night sky.

An addition to my growing collection of too-big-for-even-my-biggest-bookshelf books, Stargazing is beautifully designed as a purely visual experience. The first plate serves as a guidepost. Over dark treetops we see a blue-black night sky filled with the most recognizable of constellations, the Big Dipper. However, the whole image is thrown out of focus, telling us that this book is not going to be about the named, the recognized, the known. After the second plate, which is almost completely abstract, the images are all in sharp focus, but they still point towards a direct type of seeing that is before knowledge. The photographs are like amplified versions of normal human vision. The stars are brighter, the moonlight on the mountains more intense, but the experience remains true to a sense of looking through your own eyes, unaided, as if this were what you should be able to see on the most perfect night. The photos are printed on black pages, a coat of varnish separating image from page. There are no titles, page numbers or other text (save a short acknowledgment page) to guide your viewing; you must immerse yourself completely in the act of seeing.

It is an experience comparable to that described by Walt Whitman in his poem, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," in which Whitman describes attending an astronomer's lecture, with "the proofs, the figures" and "the charts and the diagrams." Whitman soon tires of this and rises to leave: "I wander'd off by myself, / In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time, / Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars." AARON ROTHMAN
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