From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

The Color of Space

What color is space?

That's all in the eye of the beholder. Images taken from many telescopes return black and white images or data that must be manipulated.

Amateur and professional astrophotographers spend hours colorizing images from across the galaxy with exacting precision. They add color to the clouds of the Horsehead Nebula or paint the rings of Saturn.

Los Angeles-based art photographer Siri Kaur takes a more impressionistic approach to the craft.

Four or five times a year since 2007, she's driven 480 miles to the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona to point her film camera at the sky.

"Their telescopes are the size of a house, they're enormous," Kaur said.

Since the observatory sits at 7,000 feet, Kaur always has a little headache.

Getting a good image off the telescopes is a challenge. It takes five to eight hours to expose one picture through the night. And after all this, sometimes Kaur may come back with nothing.

If you have some time, this fascinating video of Astronaut Don Pettit explaining the challenge of photographing space is well worth it.

At first, Kaur developed her photos traditionally, then one day a slip changed everything.

"I started in the darkroom printing them, and I messed up one of the prints," she said. "It was really off, and it looked amazing."

Siri Kaur began experimenting, intentionally exposing the photos to light and sprinkling them with chemicals.

She now names her astronomical works of distorted light and color after the images they conjure instead of the subjects they capture –  a rose, clouds, the desert.

Despite her distorting development process, Kaur is still amazed by the enormity of astrophotography.

"This light has been traveling for as long as the planet's been around," she said. "It hits my camera, and I capture it."

Siri Kaur is a photography professor at Otis College of Art and Design.

You can see Kaur's work in person at the Cohen Gallery from March 28 – May 11, as part of the show "Falling From Great Heights."

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