Field of Science

Perspectives on the Vertical

Cabinet Magazine has an interesting cultural perspective on human's attempts to zoom in and out of nature in the vertical. Particularly they focus on one of my favorite science films ever, Power of Ten.

Powers of Ten was originally inspired by a 1957 book by the Dutch educator Kees Boeke titled Cosmic View. By 1963, the Eameses were experimenting with tracking shots that gave the effect of a camera pulling away with accelerating motion from an object, and in 1968 used these in a film called A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in the Universe. Shot in black and white, it was followed by an extended color version—the one known as Powers of Ten—made in 1977. The basic set-up of the latter film is well-known. It opens with a picnic scene in a park in Chicago. From a ground level view, the camera then switches to a vertical, aerial position from which it looks down, the frame centered—as we later find out—on an atom in the man’s hand. At this point the narrator tells us that we are one meter away and looking at a square one meter by one meter. Now the camera pulls away vertically and begins to accelerate so that every ten seconds our distance from the initial scene is ten times greater. The camera continues its upward trajectory until just after 1024 meters (100 million light years) when it gradually slows and begins its descent, collapsing beyond its original position and now decelerating through the ever-smaller dimensions of cells, molecules, atoms, and beyond.

Read on.

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