Eclipse of the Republic

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On 30 October 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition (or The Chicago World’s Fair) closed after a six month celebration of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the New World 400 years before (401 years, actually, but bureaucracy delayed the fair’s public opening by a whole year).  Held at what is now Jackson Park in the South Side of Chicago, the Exposition brought in people and cultures from 46 different countries.  Heralded as a grand celebration of humanity, the Fair notably showcased to the world of Chicago’s revival after the Great Fire 22 years prior.

While over 200 classically styled buildings were constructed for the fair over 600 acres in Jackson Park and Hyde Park, nearly all were intended to be temporary.  Only two remnants remain from the Fair remain today: the Palace of Fine Arts that now serves as the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Statue of the Republic.  The current 24-foot tall gilded bronze statue, however, is actually a smaller replica that replaced the 65-foot original gilded plaster sculpture that was destroyed in a fire several years after the Fair.  Erected in 1918, the statue today stands in the middle of Jackson Park as a monument to the Fair itself.

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When I became aware last week that a partial solar eclipse was to occur on Thursday 23 October, I had began to brainstorm for a shoot.  Just as I did for my pursuit of the supermoon (see “Failure is not an option“), I scoured through a map of Chicago and studied various vantage points using the Photographer’s Ephemeris web app.  Having recently brushed up on my studies of the Fair, I looked into the possibility of using either the science museum or the statue to use as a foreground element.  The fact that the eclipse was to occur an hour before sunset and just a week before 30 October inspired me to attempt a tribute to the Fair’s closing—a partially covered sun setting over the remnants of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

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Using the ephemeris, I had calculated and mapped out where and when to position myself in relation to the statue as to capture the eclipse between her arm: 100 yards facing the statue directly, southwest.  So on Thursday late afternoon, I hiked outed to Jackson Park.  Arriving at the area around 4:30pm, a good 20 minutes before start of the eclipse, I found where I had to be, set up my tripod, camera, and 300mm lens with ND filter, and patiently waited, though constantly checking my watch.  At 4:50, I carefully gazed up into the sky.  I cannot stress enough that one should never look directly into the sun without protective eyewear, let alone during an eclipse of any type.  At this hour close to sunset, however, the sun was low enough that one could do quick glances.  When I did, I noticed that the sun did not appear quite completely circular.  I then held up one of my ND filters to protect my eyes for a longer look.  The eclipse had arrived.  And with it was an old nemesis, a massive cloud bank.  Once again, clouds threatened an astronomical shoot.  It was the supermoon all over again.

I quickly tried to capture the eclipse by itself before the clouds completely obscured it.  The sun was still too high in altitude angle, however, to line up with the statue, and it was still too bright for a balanced exposure.

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Trying to salvage the shoot, I scurried about with my tripod still expanded, futilely trying to get around the clouds.  By 5:30, I began to loose hope.  The eclipse was set to end at 5:45 with sunset just before 6:00.  Disappointed, I folded up my tripod, slung my camera to my side, and walked west to the main road to turn north back to Hyde Park.  It was only after passing the statue, however, that the clouds broke up, and after passing some trees, I saw it.  Frantically, I unfolded the tripod, and without extending it,  knelt down, mounted my camera onto it, plugged in a shutter release cable, composed, focused, metered, and began shooting.

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After several clicks, I got up, grabbed everything, and dashed across the street to the other side, dodging oncoming traffic to get a better vantage point.  Until then, I had never seen an eclipse.  Ever.  Allowing myself to enjoy the moment, I made one last position change, adjusted everything on the camera again, and watched the eclipse with my own eyes while pressing the shutter release cable in my hand every few seconds.  It was not long that the crescent sun disappeared below the distant treeline.

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Although I did not get the shot I had designed and intended, for ten minutes, I witnessed something truly incredible.  Make not mistake, though, this is certainly not the last time I pay a visit to the Statue of the Republic.  The pose of her raised arms, holding an orb in one hand and a sceptre in the other, just begs to frame a celestial body in between.  I shall return.

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All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.