October 23, 2017

James Suits ’12 Photographs 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse from atop Mount Borah, Idaho – Makes Good on his 2012 Promise

James Suits '12 standing atop Mount Borah, Idaho, while taking digital images of the 2017 solar eclipse.
James Suits '12 standing atop Mount Borah, Idaho, during the summer of 2017 when capturing digital images of the solar eclipse. Photo/ Megan Betteridge

James Suits ’12 is a man of his word.

“It was about eight years ago that I first had the notion of photographing an eclipse from a state highpoint for my panorama series,” said Suits. “I was thinking about what I could do that would be different, unique.”

While Browsing NASA’s website, he learned that the next solar eclipse would occur during the summer of 2017 and that the path of totality, where the moon completely blocks out the sun, would only be completely visible, and also pass over the highest point of the state, in Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.

The question for Suits then became how to turn his idea into a concrete plan of action.

Fast forward to 2012. As a student of the fine arts, photographer Suits was applying for the SUNY Thayer Fellowship, which carries a $7,000 award.

The award would go a long way to help him to move forward with his plan, reach his selected destination and capture an important moment it time.

During his face-to-face interview, one of the judges asked him where he saw himself in five years. Suits responded by saying that at 11:31 a.m., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, he would be standing atop Mount Borah, the highest mountain in the state of Idaho, photographing a panorama of the total solar eclipse.

As Suits tells it, the judge laughed and said that was the most specific answer he had ever been given to that question.

Two days later, he got a call from SUNY saying he had been selected to receive the Thayer Fellowship and the award that goes with it.

The story of Suits’ journey, overnight camping at the trailhead Sunday, then hiking up and back down the 12,662-foot mountain Monday, are available on his blog http://www.jamessuitsphoto.com/blog/2017/9/10/mount-borah.

His blog post also features a spectacular 360-degree panorama taken from the summit during the total solar eclipse, as well as other images of the eclipse and video of his remarkable journey.

Suits earned an associate degree from Onondaga Community College and completed his bachelor’s in The Arts with SUNY Empire.

His artistic passion is expressed in panoramic photographs through his ongoing series, “Unlikely Landscapes.” He was driven to capture the high points of each state, including Delaware and Connecticut, and tri-points, where the borders of three states meet.

Suits’ 2012 submission for the Thayer Fellowship, "360 Degrees: Landscapes in Panorama,” was a portfolio of his highpoint and tri-point panorama photography.

The Syracuse-based Suits was nominated by his primary mentor, Alan Stankiewicz, and supporting material was submitted by Yvonne Murphy, professor of arts at the college.

Stankiewicz described Suits’ submission as “unexpected or lesser-known landscapes,” featuring historic, geographical and environmental highlights.

For example, his images spotlight the highest elevation in several states, where two or three states come together, and landmarks like Stonehenge and Denali National Park.

Suits reinforces his subject by his choice of format. Many of his works are presented in a landscape format measuring anywhere from 8 inches by 6 feet to 8 inches by 20 feet.

Immediately after learning of his selection, Suits said, "I am very excited and honored to have won the Thayer award. This whole process has been educational and I am looking forward to continuing with my photography. I am thankful to the faculty at Empire State College who nominated me for this award and have mentored me along the way."

At that time, Stankiewicz said, “As his mentor for the past two years, I have worked closely with James, both in constructing his degree plan and in working with him on several studies in the arts and photography. James Suits’ photography is an extension of his every day. Receiving the Thayer Fellowship will allow him to move substantially forward with several of his current projects.”

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