Let’s meet Walker Evans

Today we spotlight the life and times of American photographer and photojournalist Walker Evans. Evans is most famous for his Depression Era photos but, of course, there’s much more to his story.

Born in St Louis in 1903, he attended private boarding and college prep schools before studying French Literature at Williams College and dropping out after a year. In 1926, after spending a year in Paris, Evans would go to New York City and begin socializing with the art and literary crowd. His friends included Hart Crane, John Cheever and Lincoln Kirstein.

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Evans took up photography around 1928 and by 1930 had a set of photos published in Hart Cranes poetry book “The Bridge”. He would go onto having more images published in 1931 in Lincoln Kirstein’s book on Victorian houses in the Boston area.

In May 1933, Walker Evans arrived in Cuba. He was there on assignment to take photographs for “The Crime of Cuba”, Carlton Beals’ book about the Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado. It was there that Evans met Ernest Hemingway and the 2 quickly became friends. Originally scheduled to be in Cuba for two weeks, Hemingway loaned Evans money to extend his stay another week. Evans recalls, “I had a wonderful time with Hemingway. Drinking every night. He was at loose ends – and he needed a drinking companion, and I filled that role for two weeks.”

Evans photographed the people and social landscape of Cuba under Machados rule. He also took images of the political unrest that existed and helped Hemingway acquire photos from newspaper archives that documented some of the political violence Hemingway described in To Have and Have Not. Fearing that he was being watched by the dictator’s secret police, and that they might confiscate his pictures, gave the prints to Hemingway for safekeeping. Evans would later leave Cuba with 400 negatives but Hemingway would keep the 46 prints that Evans had given him.The prints left with Hemingway were discovered in Havana in 2002.

In 1935, Evans was hired by the R.A. (Resettlement Administration), later called the F.S.A. (Farm Security Administration), to document the workers and architecture  of the South. Then, in 1936, he and writer James Agee took an assignment from Fortune magazine for an article about Hale County, Alabama. The magazine did not run the story however, years later, the story was published in the book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” .  

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Allie Mae Burroughs, aged 27, by Walker Evans

The book chronicles Evans and Agee’s stay with three sharecropper families living in the town of Akron, Alabama during the Great Depression. It tells the story of the hardships endured by the Burroughs, the Tingles and the Fields and gives an in-depth, heart wrenching tale of life during the Depression.

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Fortune magazine would later revisit Hale County, Alabama, 69 years later and publish an article “The Most Famous Story We Never Told”, which included an interview with Charles Burroughs who was just a child when Evans and Agee visited. An excerpt from the article:

It was a big book, a work of wonder and compassion, but definitely not an easy read, filled with bewildering passages and baffling digressions, plus it was late. The war was on, the Depression was finished. Only about 600 copies were sold, and despite critic Lionel Trilling’s declaration that it was “the most realistic and important moral effort of our generation,” it passed quickly out of print. A decade went by, then another. In 1960–three years after Agee’s alcohol-accelerated death by heart attack at 45 and two years after his posthumously published novel, A Death in the Family, won the Pulitzer Prize–Famous Men was reissued and found an audience, and entered the canon of American literary masterpieces.

After the book, around 1938, Evans would begin photographing people in the NYC subway, hiding the camera under his coat. The subway photos would be published in a book titled, “Many are Called”.

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In 1945, Walker Evans became a staff writer at Time magazine and then a short time later, an editor at Fortune until 1965. That year, he became a professor of photography on the faculty for Graphic Design at the Yale University School of Art.

Walker Evans passed away in 1975 at his home in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1995, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY became the sole copyright holder for all works of art in all media by Walker Evans. (With the exception of about 1000 negatives Evans produced for the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration). Evans’s RA / FSA works are in the public domain.

 

 

 

Behind the Photo: Bliss

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©Microsoft

 

Chances are that if you’ve spent anytime in front of a computer, you’ll immediately recognize the image from the days of Windows XP. It’s estimated that over a billion people have viewed this image but chances are very few know the origins of it. Widely believed to be a Photoshop generated image, it is in fact, an authentic photo.

In January 1996, photographer Charles O’Rear was driving from his home in Northern California, through the Napa Valley to visit his girlfriend. They had been working on a book together about the wine country and O’Rear was on the lookout for photo opportunities to use in the book.  While driving down the Sonoma Highway, he noticed the hill which was void of the vineyards that normally cover it. They were apparently removed several years earlier due to a phylloxera infestation. O’Rear recalls thinking “There it was! My God, the grass is perfect! It’s green! The sun is out; there’s some clouds” He took four shots and got back in his truck and left.

Not using it in his wine country book, he decided to place the photo on Corbis, a stock photo service, and list it as available for use by anyone willing to pay the licensing fee.  O’Rear was contacted sometime in 2000-2001 by the Microsoft XP development team not wanting to just license the photo but to purchase the complete rights to the image. They offered him what was said to be the second highest single payment ever paid to a photographer for his image. He had to sign a confidentiality agreement and could not disclose the amount. It’s been reported to be somewhere in “the low six figures”.

He was to sign the paperwork and send the image to Microsoft, but delivery services declined to ship the package because their insurance would not cover the value of the contents. Microsoft would pay for his plane ticket and he personally delivered the product to them.

Microsoft gave the image the name “Bliss” and it would become the central part of their XP marketing campaign. O’Rear has said that the image was not enhanced or manipulated. Microsoft states that they added a little more saturation to the grass and cropped the photo slightly to the left to better fit the desktop.

Charles O’Rear says he’s amazed at some of the places he’s seen the photo. On News reports form the Kremlin, to the White House, and while on vacation in Thailand “walking in this little village looking for a place to eat, and there it was in a window … I think every corner of the globe, every culture, every country, has been exposed to it.”

Over the next 10 years, it’s been said that Bliss was the most viewed photograph in the world. Now there are grapevines growing on the hill again making the image impossible to duplicate, for now anyway. Attempts have been made to reproduce the image, with at least one of them, by Goldin+Senneby, appearing in art galleries.

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Attempts have been made to reproduce the image, with at least one of them, by Goldin+Senneby (right), appearing in art galleries.

 

So there you have it. The story of Bliss. I suppose there are a multitude of lessons one can take away from this story but my motive was really quite simple. With all that’s going on in the world right now, I just wanted to share a great story with a happy ending. Sometimes we need one of those.

 

Have a great Wednesday.

 

 

Fondly Remembering: Kodak Disc Cameras

Today we turn back the clocks to the year 1982. Ronald Reagan was President, John Paul II was Pope and the Falklands War began and ended. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial premiered in theaters, we lose John Belushi to a drug overdose, and John DeLorean is arrested for selling cocaine to undercover FBI agents. Also that same year, the Commodore 64 is introduced, the first CD is produced in Germany and Kodak begins selling the Disc Camera.

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“No other camera looks or works like it.” claimed Kodak.  In response to their successful 110 Instamatic cameras which were introduced 10 years earlier, the Disc camera had at the time, cutting edge technology. The disc contained 15 frames around a cassette that you simply placed into the camera. The camera would take a photo, and then rotate the disk for the next shot. The cameras were small and thin with Auto exposure and Auto flash. Only color film was available, Slide and Black and White film were never produced. The Disc camera sparked the biggest ad campaign in the company’s history. Kodak would go on to sell 25 million of these cameras.

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The problem was that these little cameras just did not produce quality pictures. Because of the small negatives, the images had to be greatly enlarged which in effect showed lots of grain and poor image quality. Photo Labs were also using optics designed for larger formats rather than use Kodak’s specially-designed system. Disc cameras were relatively expensive compared to other formats and with the increasing popularity of the new 35mm format, which produced far superior images, Kodak ended production of the Disc by 1988. They continued production of the film until 1999.

We close the books on the Disc camera and bid it a fond farewell. We also close the books on the year 1982 but before we go, I’d like to add just one more memory from that year. Sadly, in December of that year, ABBA disbanded and played together for the very last time.

 

 

Have a great day.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Happy Monday Zensters and new readers, I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend. We’re going to start out the week with a Photography Tip that’s both challenging and fun. Today’s post takes us to the zoo.

The zoo not only gives us a wonderful opportunity to photograph wildlife, it’s also a great place to photograph people and their interactions with the animals. It provides a great place to not only practice your photography skills but it also will teach you to overcome some obstacles as well. Today I’ll share some tips to get the most out of your trip to the zoo.

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Prepare for the trip

Your success is going to depend on how well you’ve prepared. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and standing on your feet so it’s probably a good idea to travel as light as possible and wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  The best time to take photographs at the zoo is early in the day or late afternoon. This is when the animals are going to be most active giving you the best opportunity to get a great shot. Find out when feeding time is, that’s a great time to get good action shots. I would try to plan your trip during the week when the crowds will be far less than they are on the weekends. You can also try calling your local zoo, some allow photographers early access to the park for a fee, giving you the opportunity to shoot without interference.

Pack your camera, extra batteries and memory cards, you’ll be taking a lot of photos. Most of the photos you’ll shoot will probably require a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm. You’ll also have some opportunity to get closer shots of wildlife behind glass exhibits, or your zoo might even have a butterfly garden. In these cases, a lens in the 50-70mm range will come in handy. Hopefully you have a zoom such as a 70-300mm or 80-200mm in which case, one lens will be all you need to carry that day. Whatever lens or combination of lenses you decide to take, make sure you have a lens hood for them all. You’ll be shooting in all kinds of different light and dealing with the sun from all kinds of different angles. The hood will help eliminate lens flare you might encounter.

I am going to recommend leaving your tripod at home. It’s going to be cumbersome, especially if the park ends up being crowded that day. Not only will it take up a lot of room, you’ll have issues of people, especially kids, accidentally bumping into or kicking it as they attempt to get a closer view of the animals. If you absolutely feel the need to bring a tripod, take a monopod instead.

Arriving at the zoo

Hopefully the day you arrive is a beautiful sunny day, the park is not crowded and you’ve arrived early. If it’s overcast, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to get some great shots and not have to worry about harsh shadows or battle the sun in certain angles. I would just try to keep the dull sky out of the shot the best I could. If it’s raining, well, I don’t know about you but I’m going home and scheduling for another day.

So, you’ve decided that all conditions are perfect and you’re going to spend the day. The very first thing you should do is get a map of the zoo and plan your route. It’ll help you decide which exhibits you want to visit and the easiest routes between them. Sometimes the feeding times are listed on the map as well so you can plan accordingly. Of course, no trip to the zoo is complete without walking past the antelope exhibit and asking “What’s Gnu?”

Lights, Camera, Action

Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your day and capture the best images possible.

1- Be Patient. Rarely will you walk up to an animal exhibit and see them posing, ready for you to take the shot. Animals will seldom stay in one spot for very long. Spend some time around the exhibit, watch the animals as they interact and move around. You might just catch the perfect moment by being patient.

2- Eliminate fences and other distractions. You want to create the illusion that these were taken in their natural environment. Items such as fences, doors, ropes with tires, etc, will take away from the image. Try to find a vantage point that focuses on the animal and it’s habitat.

3- Fill the frame. As shown in the example below, try to use as much of the frame as possible for an interesting composition. You don’t need to see the whole picture to know it’s a lion, but it’s a great perspective of a lion up close. Elephants, zebras and giraffes are great subjects for up close, filled frame shots.

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4-Include people in your shots. Don’t forget to look around and observe people as they interact with the animals. You can heart-warming images, as shown in the photo I took at the Aquarium in Corpus Christi (below) or humorous shots of people mimicking the animals they are observing. Be aware of what’s going on around you, you might be surprised at what you’ll catch!

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5- Be courteous. Please keep in mind that the others in the park have as much right to the zoo as you do. The fact that you have a camera with a big lens on it does not give you preferential treatment. I’m only mentioning this because I have witnessed photographers being extremely rude which only gives the rest of us a bad name. I’ll refer back to tip #1- Be patient.

 

Hopefully your day at the zoo produced some excellent images. Maybe they were just “ok” and you’ll evaluate what you could have done better and return with a better game plan. Sometimes it just about being at the right place at the right time. Whatever your results, you spent the day outside, in a beautiful park with your camera. Now I ask you, what more could you ask for?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Photo: Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming

Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow s
Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970.

John Filo captured the Pulitzer Prize photo on May 4th, 1970 as the Ohio National Guard opened fire on Kent State students during an anti-war protest.

Filo talks about that day:

The bullets were supposed to be blanks. When I put the camera back to my eye, I noticed a particular guardsman pointing at me. I said, “I’ll get a picture of this,” and his rifle went off. And almost simultaneously, as his rifle went off, a halo of dust came off a sculpture next to me, and the bullet lodged in a tree.

I dropped my camera in the realization that it was live ammunition. I don’t know what gave me the combination of innocence and stupidity… I started to flee–run down the hill and stopped myself. “Where are you going?” I said to myself, “This is why you are here!”

And I started to take pictures again. … I knew I was running out of film. I could see the emotion welling up inside of her. She began to sob. And it culminated in her saying an exclamation. I can’t remember what she said exactly … something like, “Oh, my God!”

The Guardsmen fired 67 rounds in a span of about 13 seconds. Four students were killed, nine injured.

The story actually begins 4 days earlier on Thursday, April 30th, 1970 when it was announced by President Nixon that the “Cambodian Incursion” had been launched by US Forces. It was widely believed that the war in Vietnam had been winding down in 1969 and the announcement of a Cambodian invasion fueled campuses nationwide to erupt in protest.

On Friday, May 1st, about 500 protesters gathered on the Commons at Kent State University. The Commons, located in the center of the campus was a traditional meeting place for rallies and protests. There was sweeping anger and a burning of a copy of the US Constitution, implying that President Nixon had killed it. The crowd dispersed shortly after noon and planned on another protest on May 4th. Around midnight that same day, trouble erupted in town after people left a bar and began throwing beer bottles at police and destroying local business store fronts. As the news spread, the crowd began to grow larger.  As more police arrived, the crowd, now at about 120 had already set a small bonfire and hurled more bottles and began shouting obscenities at the local law enforcement. A State of Emergency was soon called for by Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom and a call was placed to Governor Jim Rhodes asking for assistance. The bars were forced to close early, which in turn , increased the size of the crowd. Eventually the police dispersed the crowd using tear gas, forcing them several blocks away, back to the campus.

Saturday, May 2nd, rumors began to circulate that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and university. As a result of threats received by local businesses and leaders, Mayor Satrom met with city officials and representatives of Ohio’s Army National Guard. After the meeting, Satrom called Governor Rhodes requesting the National Guard be sent to Kent. He believed that the local officials would not be able to handle future disturbances. The request was granted and the National Guard was called in at 5:00 PM that day however, they did not arrive until later that evening, sometime around 10:00. By that time, a large protest was underway at the Commons and the campus ROTC building was ablaze. Kent firemen and police were struck by rocks and other debris as they attempted to put out the fire. Other Fire Departments had to be called in because protesters had carried away the fire hose and slashed it. By the end of the night the National Guard made several arrests and used tear gas to finally disperse the demonstrators. The arsonists were never caught, and no injuries were reported due to the fire. A later report on the blaze stated “Information developed by a FBI investigation of the ROTC building fire indicates that, of those who participated actively, a significant portion weren’t Kent State students. There is also evidence to suggest that the burning was planned beforehand: railroad flares, a machete, and ice picks are not customarily carried to peaceful rallies.”

Sunday May 3rd, a day before the shootings, Governor Rhodes holds a news conference at the firehouse, calling the protesters un-American and referring to them as ‘revolutionaries set on destroying higher education in Ohio’.

He goes on to say:

“We’ve seen here at the city of Kent especially, probably the most vicious form of campus-oriented violence yet perpetrated by dissident groups. They make definite plans of burning, destroying, and throwing rocks at police and at the National Guard and the Highway Patrol. This is when we’re going to use every part of the law enforcement agency of Ohio to drive them out of Kent. We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms. And these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. Now I want to say this. They are not going to take over [the] campus. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”

During the day, several of the students went to town to assist in the cleanup after the riots and were met with some ambivalence by the local business owners. In response to business leaders and a concerned public, Mayor Satrom issues a curfew until further notice. At 8 PM another rally was held at the Commons which was broken up about 45 minutes later by National Guardsmen firing tear gas into the crowd. The students relocated to the intersection of Lincoln and Main staging a sit-in with the intent of gaining a meeting with the Mayor and the University President. At 11 PM, curfew took effect and the National Guard dispersed the sit-in and escorted the students back to campus.

The Kent State Massacre, Monday May 4th, 1970. The protest, planned three days prior, was scheduled to begin at noon.  The University handed out 12,000 flyers in an attempt to stop the gathering, stating the event had been cancelled. Still, over 2,000 students began gathering at the Commons. The first attempt to disperse the students was made by campus patrolmen who attempted to read an order to disperse or face arrest. The students reacted by throwing rocks and objects at the patrolmen, forcing them to retreat.

The National Guard returned in a second attempt to disperse the crowd. When the protesters refused to disperse, the National Guard began to fire tear gas which proved to be ineffective because of the wind that day. The students shouting “Pigs off campus!” retaliated by throwing rocks and the tear gas back at the Guardsmen, who were wearing gas masks.

After it was apparent that the protesters would not disperse, 77 National Guards, armed with M-1 rifles and bayonets, marched towards the Commons. As the Guardsmen approached, the crowd began to retreat from the Commons, up and over what is known as Blanket Hill. The National Guard continued to follow the crowd over the hill but instead of turning left at the bottom towards the Prentice Hall parking lot as the protesters did, they continued to march forward towards a practice field surrounded by a chain link fence. They remained on the practice field for about 10 minutes. At one point, several members of the Guard knelt and aimed their weapons towards the protestors now gathering to the left and front of them. After finally realizing that the only way back was to retrace their steps over Blanket Hill, they began to march back towards the Commons. Some of the students began to follow the Guard as they began to march back over the hill. As they climbed back up Blanket Hill, several of the guardsmen stopped, half turned and faced the gathering of students in the parking lot.

At 12:24, a guardsmen sergeant fired his .45 caliber pistol towards the crowd of students. A number of other guardsmen also turned and began to fire their rifles.

One witness was Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders and a student at Kent State University at the time. In her 2015 autobiography she described what she saw:

Then I heard the tatatatatatatatatat sound. I thought it was fireworks. An eerie sound fell over the common. The quiet felt like gravity pulling us to the ground. Then a young man’s voice: “They fucking killed somebody!” Everything slowed down and the silence got heavier.

The ROTC building, now nothing more than a few inches of charcoal, was surrounded by National Guardsmen. They were all on one knee and pointing their rifles at…us! Then they fired.

By the time I made my way to where I could see them it was still unclear what was going on. The guardsmen themselves looked stunned. We looked at them and they looked at us. They were just kids, 19 years old, like us. But in uniform. Like our boys in Vietnam.

29 of the 77 guardsmen claimed to have fired their weapons.

The shooting was estimated to have lasted 13 seconds.

According to Wikipedia, the shootings killed four students and wounded nine. Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC battalion. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 225 feet (69 m) away, and their average distance from the guardsmen was 345 feet (105 m).

The question of why the shots were fired remains widely debated.

The Vanishing Darkness- International Dark Sky Association (IDA)

“Even as a child, she had preferred night to day, had enjoyed sitting out in the yard after sunset, under the star-speckled sky listening to frogs and crickets. Darkness soothed. It softened the sharp edges of the world, toned down the too-harsh colors. With the coming of twilight, the sky seemed to recede; the universe expanded. The night was bigger than the day, and in its realm, life seemed to have more possibilities.”
― Dean Koontz, Midnight

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In June 2016, it was estimated that one-third of the world’s population could no longer see the Milky Way, including 80% of Americans and 60% of Europeans.

Let that just sink in a moment.

If the words weren’t powerful enough, here are 2 images of the Earth at night. One was taken in 1994, the other in 2012.

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The consequences of Light Pollution are for more than not being able to see the Milky Way at night- Effects on human health, migratory birds, ecosystems and energy waste are just a few.

The International Dark Sky Association or IDA works to “protect the night skies for present and future generations.” Founded in 1988 they are “dedicated to protecting the night skies for present and future generations.”

One of the features of the website is this approx. 6 minute video called “Losing the Dark” and was created to raise awareness of the effects of light pollution and what actions you can take to mitigate it.

Here is some of IDA’s work, as listed on their website:

International Dark Sky Places »
Our award-winning flagship conservation program recognizes and promotes excellent stewardship of the night sky. We’ve certified more than 65 Dark Sky Places worldwide across six continents, comprising more than 58,000 square km (21,200 square miles).

Fixture Seal of Approval »
Our FSA program certifies outdoor lighting fixtures that minimize glare, reduce light trespass and protect the night sky. Thousands of products and more than one hundred manufacturers have already been approved under the FSA program.

Parks and Protected Areas »
We help parks, nature reserves and similar sites with lighting management plans and provide eco-friendly lighting options for free or at substantially discounted prices.

Education and Outreach »
We educate communities and public officials about light pollution and provide solutions and resources through our public outreach programs and 50-plus chapters on five continents.

Sea Turtle Conservation »
Currently, we are working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to protect endangered sea turtles in the Florida Panhandle. We are also in the process of creating a sea turtle friendly product certification program.

Public Policy »
Working with public officials and concerned citizens, we advocate for smart lighting laws and policies and provide recommendations and model lighting legislation.

Consulting Projects »
We consult with government entities and private businesses to conduct night sky brightness monitoring, lighting surveys and retrofits, sea turtle friendly lighting and lighting ordinance drafting and adoption.

IDA Awards and Recognition Program »
Our annual awards program recognizes the outstanding contributions of our members, volunteers and like-minded organizations in dark sky protection and light pollution mitigation.

 

If you have some time, please visit their website and learn more about IDA and what you can do to stop light pollution and raise awareness of this issue.  Having always lived in or near big cities, I’ve always been routinely aware of light pollution. I knew if I wanted to see a sky full of stars or view a meteor shower, I’d need to go “out to the country”.  It was something I just accepted, never giving it anymore thought. Up until a couple of days ago, I was totally unaware of the consequences of light pollution. I was just upset that I couldn’t see the Milky Way.  I felt obligated to write this post.

Hopefully this has raised your awareness and inspires you to share this with others as well. The effects of light pollution are reversable, awareness is key. I want to thank the IDA for all they do, it’s comforting to know we have “Guardians of the Night Sky”.

 

Namaste