Over 200 million Americans saw the August 2017 total solar eclipse, but none had a finer vantage point than photographer Jon Carmichael. He spent years devising a unique method of capturing the entire eclipse, finally merging his interests in photography, astronomy, and aviation.
“I wondered if I got up high enough, could I actually see the moon’s shadow move across the Earth’s surface at 2,000 mph? That’s what I really wanted to see,” Carmichael tells My Modern Met. “And as a photographer, I wondered, can I actually capture this beautiful fleeting moment in our country from a unique perspective? This was the most photographed moment in history, so as a professional photographer that’s a lot of pressure.”
After carefully examining the eclipse route, the photographer discovered that Southwest Airlines had a trip from Portland to St. Louis that would place him in prime viewing position for the event.
Carmichael bought a ticket and hoped for a window seat, taking a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Due to Southwest’s lack of allocated seats, he’d even prepared to pay someone to give up their window seat if required. Fortunately, it did not happen. When he described his aim to the Southwest flight crew, they not only guaranteed him a wonderful seat, but also sent the captain outside the aircraft to wipe the window for a crystal clear image. The pilots circled many times throughout the trip to present all passengers with a fantastic view.
When the moment of totality arrived, Carmichael was prepared. He took almost 1,200 images in two minutes and captured the complete eclipse above Snake River precisely. It’s a photograph that Inc. has dubbed “history’s most incredible shot.” A ten-foot-tall laser-crystal c-print of 108 is currently on display at Twitter’s New York headquarters.
How did it feel to photograph his dreams? “In photography, it’s very rare for something you envision to manifest itself, let alone to turn out even better than you had hoped. I had visualised this moment for years, risked a lot flying across the country on the off-chance this could work out, and hadn’t slept in days leading up to this moment. So after I looked through all the photographs, I put my camera away, took a deep breath, and celebrated by ordering a drink and had a giant smile for the rest of the flight. I had never felt more relieved, grateful, and excited in my life. Against all odds, it came together. It felt meant to be—and literally changed my life.”
Carmichael spent a year editing the photographs to create 108, a massive photographic mosaic. The photographer’s website now sells limited edition prints.