A Ray of Light

Photograph of Bruce Angus Fraser, standing on the back deck of his San Francisco home, holding a bottle of Scotch and a copy of one of his books.

Bruce Fraser, circa 2005. Photograph by Angela Reitz.

Bruce Fraser was a legendary imaging scientist, writer, and musician. He was my friend.

We attended the same publishing and imaging conferences for more than ten years, and would often stay up late over a wee dram of single malt, talking about photons, neurons, and the mechanics of human color vision. Bruce had traded the fog of his native Edinburgh for the fog of San Francisco, but as a photographer never lost his innate love for the subtleties of color.

In those days, digital devices and Photoshop had started taking over the publishing and printing industries, and we were busy figuring out how these new tools could best recreate the experience of color – something that could be approximated but never really attained.

For Bruce, a total solar eclipse was the perfect metaphor for this ineluctable gap. He laughed at the idea that an eclipse could be captured with film, pixels, or words, having experienced totality in Bolivia, India, Mongolia, and Mexico before departing this planet more than ten years ago.

Now I know what he meant. I was among the throngs who flocked to Smith Rock State Park, Oregon on August 21st, as a total solar eclipse swept across North America, and blew me away.

I felt calm at first, thankful that all the research, planning, and travel had actually worked. Looking up from the dramatic rock formations, I put on my ISO-approved eclipse glasses now and then, as the moon erased ever more of the sun’s disk. The air chilled, and strange hues filled the sky.

Then, it happened. It had been getting darker, but suddenly it was very dark. Venus appeared, brighter than I’d ever seen it. Brilliant pools of light encircled the moon, and in the distance people howled like wolves.

I felt pulled – dragged by the moon’s gravity as it crossed the sun, pushing through that moment of perfect alignment. In that instant, it hit me: I am on the Earth!

As totality ebbed, and the sun erupted into a blazing ring of fire, I knew that somewhere, far above the skies, Bruce was smiling.