08 June 2009



Einstein asked if God throws dice. Hawking responded that he not only throws dice, he throws where we can’t see them. Guessing the weather on one of these shoots is like playing dice with God. Arrangements must be made weeks in advance for the pilot, plane, various environmentalists, journalists, and me. And then there we are, three days before the shoot, comparing the different weather websites, hoping for the right prediction, and switching the days based on what they say. Of course, all of the weather reports are based on the same NOAA data, but somehow they all have a different story.

This was the second shoot for the Catskills Hydro-Fracing project, our plan being to first shoot the “dead zone” end of winter, when things look the worst, and then again in spring when everything is in bloom. Drilling has begun in Pennsylvania, but the process is still in the permit stage in New York, and we would be looking at both active sites and permitted sites. The first shoot had gone really well, thanks to the pilot’s (Bob Keller) astute weather observations. We were flying from the Sullivan County “International” Airport , looking up to see nothing but clouds. Bob said, “I think it will clear from the West, let’s go do the Pennsylvania sites first.” (Here, a plug for LightHawk: http://www.lighthawk.org/, the association of pilots who lend their time and aircrafts for environmental flights.) "Go West young man," he said, and we did, finding sunshine, and getting great shots of drilling sites in process.

When we returned to the Catskills, we brought the sun, and got beautiful stuff of the permit sites.

Today we were faced with a choice between two bad predictions: both the shoot day and the back-up day were iffy, but the first choice day was supposed to be clear in the morning, so we chose to stay with it. Does the fair reader need me to point out the obvious eventuality? So we got up there, and it was a cloudy, flat light; not the worst, but not great. Essentially impossible to get that amazing beauty shot of landscape if you don’t have any shadows, thus no topography.

This is a project with the Columbia University Urban Design Lab, so there is a wealth of data already, the stuff I would normally just make up ...kidding... but in all seriousness, the information usually takes much work to compile. Moreover, this wonderful cooperative effort of University, various environmental groups, and private artist is a perfect highlight of a flaw in our permit system. In the USA, for-profit entities are allowed to go ahead with a process without proper due-diligence, and the burden of proof is on us do-gooders to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the process is harmful to people and the environment.

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