Polar Skies Through Panoramic Eyes of
LeRoy Zimmerman (1940-2015)
Remembering pioneer panoramic photographer of northern lights, LeRoy Zimmerman
In late 2015, TWAN family lost one of his most inspiring senior photographers. American photographer LeRoy Zimmerman has been the northern most member of The World at Night group, near the Arctic circle in Alaska. He was born in 1940 and was the first to ever film auroras in the panoramic format since 1967. For more than four decades he displayed his images on wide-screen theater shows in an art form named Photo Symphony. Started with 6 slide projectors and continued in digital. The shows were mainly presented in Alaska to illustrate the aurora borealis to tourists. His panoramas were all made up of three horizontal 35mm shots stitched into a 1:4 image ratio. He considered this the most comfortable panoramic format for our human eyes to gaze upon.
LeRoy inspired many nightscape photographers, including several TWAN members, to start panoramic astrophotos. One of his aurora panos was used as the header image on a US Postage Stamp in 2007, in celebration of the Polar Year, the first ever aurora stamp in the US. The heritage of LeRoy is beyond his nightscape masterpiece panoramas. His deep love to nature and night sky remains forever with us.
"The crowd of day visitors to the national park have retreated for the night. The darkness, illuminated only by moonlight, shows a world not seen by most. To be shooting there in the dark, being surrounded by bugling elk in rut unseen in the near distance, is about as eerie as one can imagine. Such a haunting sound filling the darkness and the silence of night. But yet it is the beauty that brings you there, and holds you there, despite your concerns about wildlife. The world at night. How lovely is that!"
"Being out there in the dark with a camera is a time filled with memorable magic and we can bring it back for others to see! The incredible joy of living just south of the arctic circle. I don't think I could ever live anywhere else."
"Too bad they don't realize what they are missing in the darkness. There is a stillness that cannot be known during the day, when people and traffic are never out of view."
"This was only the first night of my journey, and I knew I was in for the trip of a lifetime... Sometimes nature puts us where we need to be."
"At times it is hard to truly grasp the size of the auroras. The monstrous lights they really are at times gets swallowed up against the backdrop of the universe that surrounds us all. But the beauty of those different worlds mixed together in a night scene is enough to leave one in wonder, night after night... Amazing to think about the connection we all share to things so far away."
"And us fragile humans lay there in awe in the darkness, only hearing the sound of the rushing Colorado river, realizing our true importance in this world, and what a speck of time we have to ourselves. Time stretches to the unimaginable, and as our minds try to grasp it is what we are seeing. We can hear our inner selves 'snap and break' as we realize we can never know, that there is more to this world than our minds can ever wrap themselves around."
"There are many ways to be aware that there are greater forces at work in this world than we can ever understand. Some may go inside the church to know, and some of us can know from being outside the church. I welcome the mystery of not knowing some of the secrets of this world, and this night was a reminder of just how humble one should be."
Words by TWAN photographer Dennis Mammana
We all knew the end was coming, but it was still a shock. On November 2, 2015, my good friend LeRoy Zimmerman lost his long and courageous bout with cancer. LeRoy was such a kind and gentle soul. He was often the first face I'd see each year when I stepped off the plane in Fairbanks, Alaska. He frequently let me stay at his home (his “nest” as he called it), even though there was little room for a guest. And yet I felt very comfortable with the accommodations, his good humor and his amazing kindness.
You can just imagine two passionate aurora shooters hanging out together—waiting anxiously for darkness so we could head out to who-knows-where to seek and capture the most magical of celestial lights. Equally fun was just sitting in his house watching aurora forecasts, magnetic field numbers and webcams on the computer while giggling like schoolchildren about the amazing computer and photographic technology advances we’ve seen during our long careers, and trying to imagine just what we might see next.
LeRoy was quite a gadget-guy, and I never left Fairbanks without buying at least one or two new “toys” that I first saw at his home. And quite an innovator as well. In addition to being a pioneer in panoramic photography of the aurora borealis, he ran a popular panoramic show in several theaters around Alaska.
LeRoy Zimmerman and Dennis Mammana (right) in 2013, visiting the Southern California's Borrego Desert.
It was in the late 1960s that LeRoy left sunny San Diego for Alaska and found his forever home in Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City. And what a perfect match for a man with a truly golden heart. He was a colleague in TWAN, a long-time mentor and a very good friend, and I'll miss him terribly. I’ll be returning to Alaska in February—the first time since his passing. Somehow I think that Fairbanks and the northern lights will never quite be the same without him.
Rest in peace, my friend
LeRoy aurora images displayed in TWAN digital exhibition in Ars Electronica Center, Austria.
"It really was Fairbanks's light symphony, playing itself out in the darkness for all those that knew how to listen with their eyes. All they had to do was to remain silent, raise their eyes to the sky, and hear the music of the night playing silently overhead."