Discovering a New Art Form in Arizona's Heavens (image)

Discovering New Art Form in Arizona’s Heavens

Submitted by Barbara Hockabout, Lodestar Gardens Learning Center, Concho, AZ

The White Mountains region is, of course ,famous for recreational opportunities. We often talk about exquisite trails, panoramic vistas, friendly camping areas, colorful rock formations, intriguing petroglyph sites and ruins, and more. There is another majestic feature we don’t talk about as much, and it deserves much more attention—the stars and planets above us. Of course, like most people I have taken photos of sunrises and sunsets, landscape silhouettes, the magical full moon, and such, but I never attempted to capture the stars in a digital image.

Until our thirteen-year-old nephew first came to visit our farm 16 miles east of Show Low, I had only a limited appreciation for the heavenly theater and its daily performances. Octavo lives under the all too often cloudy skies over Portland, Oregon. Three summers ago, when Octavo asked to sleep outside on the loft deck so that he could see the stars clearly for the first time, he was changed forever. “Not only was the view beautiful, but seeing the Milky Way for the first time so clearly with my naked eyes, I realized I didn’t need to own really expensive equipment to see it.” Since that evening, AstroPhotography became Octavo Moran’s first passion. In March 2016, he was invited to feature images he took in Arizona, to the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland.

“The biggest challenge in AstroPhotography is noise—light pollution.” Octavo enjoys our dark skies, but that isn’t the only feature of this area he appreciates. “I have been other places where there is even less light pollution, but no other place offers more enchantment in the landscape or tells such good stories with the foreground and focal pieces.” Octavo is now thirteen-years-old and works most with that branch of AstroPhotography called Landscape AstroPhotography. With the advent of technology, enthusiasts have also created Deep Sky, Planetary, and Wide Field AstroPhotography.

There was another unintended consequence after Octavo’s epiphany on the porch seeing the Milky Way clearly for the first time; he had to face his fear of the dark. He lives in a large city that pulses with light all night long; he never experienced darkness to this degree. He now seeks out the darkest, clearest nights tracking lunar phases and weather maps. Octavo now talks about wanting to be an astronaut and someday voyaging to Mars.

If you’re interested in the topic, Octavo recommends going to the Internet and searching “how to do astrophotography.” Watch Youtubes posted by Astrophotographers. Start out simply using a DSLR (digital camera) that will cost between $200-$500 and a tripod. He doesn’t recommend using a phone to capture images for AstroPhotography. Walk around the area and observe. Join an astronomy club.”

When asked if Astrophotography is an art form, Octavo said, “As soon as you make a choice about the kind of equipment you will use what you will focus on you begin to make art.”

Last summer, while sitting around the campfire on the last day of their weekend retreat, Patti Messer, Principle of the Odyssey Preparatory Academy in Casa Grande, asked her students what they liked best about coming to Lodestar. Gerard quickly answered, “I like it because the stars are closer here.”

We now have a culture of screen watchers who live life vicariously through their miniaturized phone screens. One way to achieve a balance between the passive life of receiving second-hand information on a screen and the active, sensory world of first-hand experiences is to blend the two modalities—use the computer as a tool for creative learning, for artistic projects.

Time for kids and adults to take their eyes off the mini screens on their phones and the giant screens in their living rooms in order to go outside and look to the sweeping heavens on a clear, dark night. Here in the White Mountains we have a great backdrop for a new art form.

Lodestar Gardens Learning Center promotes agricultural and art curriculum. Sign up for our Lodestar Happenings! email newsletter and go to for our fall and winter schedule of events, and future workshops including AstroPhotography workshops.