Joyner Library is hosting the exhibit “Ancient Photons” in the Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery on the second floor of the library. On display from June 9 through July 31, the exhibit showcases a collection of astrophotography captured by Tim Christensen, molecular geneticist and associate professor for the Department of Biology at East Carolina University.
“Tim is a prolific photographer, and I knew when I started working with him on the dataSTEAM exhibit that it would be an amazing opportunity to have Joyner Library host a solo show of his artwork,” said Charlotte Fitz Daniels, programs and events coordinator for Joyner Library.
Christensen says he’s mesmerized by the universe on radically different scales, from a fruit fly cell to the grand arms of a galaxy. And as an artist, Christensen believes he’s been heavily influenced by his scientific training.
“To a scientist, images are data,” he said. “Standing in both art and science worlds, I attempt to convey the art of the data. In capturing light from our galaxy and beyond, I stay true to the data while emphasizing the aspects of the image that inspire observers to think about the scale and beauty of our universe.”
He also says finding the path to his final images is a complex choreography of math, his sensibilities as an artist and scientist, and the subtleties of the subject.
“I love how he bridges the gap between art and science,” said Fitz Daniels. “His work is stunning.”
Growing up as the son of a school teacher, Christensen’s family vacations included camping trips and spending time outdoors. “That got me out in nature and under the skies and hanging out with bugs and plants,” said Christensen.
He once visited the high desert plateau with his family as a child, when his fascination with astronomy was born. Staring up at the dark night sky, he remembers seeing meteors and wondering what was up there.
Christensen also stated that telescopes are often perceived as time machines.
“The other aspect of astronomy I find interesting is this concept of time and that you look back in time when you look through a telescope,” he said. “Some of the photons I collect are 60 million light years away. That’s 60 million years old.”
Christensen’s referenced photon, on display and entitled “M109” is equivalent to 352 trillion miles away.
Christensen’s biggest challenge today is light pollution, and it’s getting worse. “I live just outside of Greenville in Simpson, and I can’t image anything in the sky to my west because of the lights in Greenville. I can only image things as they are in the eastern sky and as they rotate I have to stop and move to a different target,” he said. “The switch over to LEDs is actually a bad thing for light pollution. We now have generations of kids living in Greenville who will never get to see that night sky.”
The next goal for the artist is creating 48- and 96-panel mosaics of his works for large installations in science museums and centers. He hopes this will give more dimensionality to engage the audience in understanding the space and distance between objects within the image and believes it will take considerable time to complete. “My nine-panel mosaics take me 70-plus hours of night sky time to collect,” he said. “So you do the math.”
“We are excited to feature Tim’s work at Joyner Library,” said Heather White, assistant director for assessment and engagement. “His exhibition illustrates the power and necessity to integrate creativity and the arts in STEM initiatives.”
Joyner Library will also hold a reception on Thursday, July 20 from 4- 5 p.m. in the Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery.