Friday, March 26, 2010

Amazing pictures of earth

Edited: to stop amazing being every other word, as well as the headline.

I thought I had better take advantage of free access to the Times online before it runs out in June and they start charging me. There were two articles which caught my eye - an interview with Martin Freeman about the release of Nightwatching, the Peter Greenaway film which has been finished for months (and showing at the festivals) and yet hasn't been released until now. I find his work rather challenging, but the wonderful lighting and composition of this film seems likely to reward the watching of it. The trailer features the exhilarating music of Giovanni Sollima too - which I can hear 100 times without tiring of it. Go here for another piece which I can listen to for weeks, plus an extremely clever film by young film maker Lasse Gjertsen.

The other article was about an amateur photographer who took such stunning pictures of the earth from the atmosphere above, that NASA called.

I used to work with an editor called Ted Crowley, who was also an amateur photographer, and used to take ariel photographs using remote controlled technology, before computers were a usable adjunct to the planes and helicopters used for it. As it happens, in addition to amateur photography, he was also a playright, with a huge German following, unknown in England.

It seems that where the scientists at NASA would have used rockets and a few hundred thousand dollars to take similar pictures, Robert Harrison used £500-worth of materials including loft insulation and duct tape. He even uses a GPS device to be able to retrieve his camera once it plummets back to earth.

It's a case of necessity being the mother of invention, and demonstrates that professionalism isn't necessarily better than amateurism.... I see that A.A. Gill, at the Intelligence Squared debate on the future of news/journalism recently asked if people would be happy to have citizen dentists in the same way that they appear happy to have citizen journalists. Well, possibly. Up to the advent dentistry as a profession, citizen dentists were all that was available. And many of the people who made amazing discoveries in science would be considered amateurs today.

Being a professional journalist isn't a guarantee of quality, as anyone who reads Jan Moir in the Daily Mail can attest. Sometimes you just get an outpouring of a person's internal homophobia and not anything resembling journalism. Even A.A. Gill is not immune to allowing his personal feelings as an anti-fat grouch from showing through. Sometimes a "citizen journalist" can write more passionately and informatively than the most professional of the professionals.

It seems to me it is only in the last century that people have become obsessed by the idea that one has to go through a series of professional examinations in order to become whatever it is. While I agree that you probably don't want someone who trained in their garage to be the one taking out your appendix or your wisdom teeth, I think it would be sensible to recognise that sometimes the application of the laws about medicine have mitigated against the public interest. Dr Kelley, a dentist who discovered a dietary approach to cancer, was prosecuted several times for having practised medicine without qualification, even though he was only sharing his successful treatment of his own cancer with his dentistry patients.

And sometimes, a passionate amateur can outperform the professionals.

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