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Worm Holes

About halfway through the photo selection process for this issue, with slides scattered all over the light table, it struck me that these images, these thin little pieces of plastic, had come from all corners of the globe. This is not an especially compelling or even deep thought, I know, but sitting there, staring at images from the best skiing haunts in North America, Europe, New Zealand, South America, and even Antarctica and China, it seemed profoundly moving that these little pieces of film had actually, physically, been carried to all these wild places and back. And that they had somehow made their way to share space with one another on a light table in our offices.

A slide seems so fragile and small, especially considering all that goes into its making. First you have the obvious effort of a skier cranking a turn or hucking off a cliff. Then there’s the effort of the photographer—finding the location, framing the picture, waiting for the right light, etc.

Dig deeper and the slide comes to represent even more: A photographer and model and maybe pilot waking up, suiting up, booting up, chowing down, then heading into the hills, all these people sweating, hiking, planning, skiing—moving in countless directions that converge on a piece of film. As you go even deeper into the photo, you realize that entire lifetimes were spent to create it: all the miles of skiing to be good enough to make that turn, the hard work that enabled the photographer to earn the money to pay for the cameras and all the mistake-filled film that eventually taught him how to do it right. And if there’s a helicopter and pilot involved, think about the training and hours spent aloft, or the lives of the people who built or serviced the machine.

That’s a whole lot goin’ on in a piece of Fujichrome. It tripped me out thinking about it, especially with 80 or so individual slides sitting in front of me on the light table, each one with its own story, each one with infinite stories.

You know how thoughts go: One led to another, and eventually one popped into my head that really tripped me out. It goes something like this: Most of you are familiar with 35mm cameras, right? So you know that action photography requires higher shutter speeds? Well, most ski photographers shoot at 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second. There are 81 editorial photos in this magazine. If you add up the entire elapsed time that they represent, at an average shutter speed of say, 1/250 of a second (to account for the older and slower cameras in the historical section), you get a total time of 81/250 of a second. More simply, about 1/3 of a second.

Think about it: All the ski action in this book—every carve, tweak, air, and face shot—took place in less than a second, far less than a second. All those lifetimes of passion, experience, and learning—times 81—balance on the pinpoint of 1/3 of a second. It’s as if the world’s biggest funnel collected infinite experiences and channeled them through a drinking straw.

Or maybe it’s more like those funky theoretical black holes called worm holes. Everyone knows what a black hole is—the mass of a giant star collapsed into a tiny dot, with a gravitational field so strong not even light can escape its pull. Worm holes, the theory goes, are black holes that pull in all that matter and light and spit it out somewhere else: another part of the universe, another place in time, or even a parallel universe.

Maybe that’s a little of what’s going on here: The Photo Annual pulls together all these images, these representations of lifetimes balanced on 1/3 of a second, and spits them out into another part of the universe, where they’ll find their way to coffee tables, patrol shacks, dorm room walls, and bathrooms. And from there, who knows? The best minds in astrophysics don’t, and neither do I.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.5, January 1996. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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