After winning the Animal Antics category in the Nature's Best 2005 Photo Contest, I waited for months for details about the accompanying exhibit in the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. I never really received firm details, but I knew the exhibit was up when friends started sending me photographs of the Screaming Turtle in the exhibit (thanks, Mike, Oliver, and Wendy!)
*UPDATE* Purchase a print of this image!
-- scroll to the bottom if you're looking for photos --
And so, I planned a trip to Washington DC to see it in person. Alisa Wong graciously offered to host me in her cozy apartment in Dupont Circle, and I got to spent some time with old friends Josh Klein and Zach Price. I also met Wetpixel-member Mike Oelrich and Andy DeHart, the National Aquarium's General Manager. While going through security at the National Aquarium, I heard a surprised, "Eric!", and after turning around (a bit surprised, myself), I saw John and his wife, who were both at the Bonaire Digital Shootout last year. Small world. I suppose if I were to bump into underwater photographers anywhere in DC, it would be at the aquarium.
The Nature's Best exhibit at the Smithsonian was very well done, with former winners prominently lining one wall and this year's winners scattered around the rest of the room. My turtle image is featured as a 5-foot print on a free-standing column at the front-entrance of the exhibit, and while I was standing there I heard just about everyone who walked in make some sort of comment about it. Alisa, Josh and I wandered around for a bit, snapping photos, and then I had to rush off to the National Aquarium to meet up with Andy and Mike.
The National Aquarium has just received a sizeable grant from NOAA, so there should be some nice renovations in the next couple of years (after which they may be moving!). It's a modest aquarium, but interesting; it's the nation's oldest aquarium and lives inside the Department of Commerce building. Many of the exhibits show signs of its history, with wooden seals (now lined with silicone), pipe anchors in the concrete for metal railings, etc. Andy walked us through the exhibits and explained what would be happening to each one during the coming renovations.
In the evening, Alisa took me to a party hosted at her friend's place, which was full of Treasury Department folk. DC is a strange place: so many people identify with some sort of organization (most of them government-related, it seems). During the course of the few hours we were there, I listened in to conversations about the State Department, Treasuries, Commerce, and other goverment-related stuff. Everyone I spoke with seemed to be well-traveled, and some even plan trips abroad around the proximity to an American Embassy. So... I perhaps was a bit out of place there, but I enjoyed the conversation and company.
On Sunday, Alisa and I walked around Georgetown, which was cute and had interesting, old buildings. Much of DC appears to be deserted after living here in New York City. And good food seems to be hard to find in DC. I was told that Ethiopian food is good locally, but I didn't get a chance to see for myself.
Zach was working on Sunday, so I met up with him at the Supreme Court for a tour of the facilities before walking around back to have Chinese food. It was fun to wander around the building, and we literally didn't see another person once we were past the guard. I thought it was funny that at the podium where you might make your argument to the justices, the only text that is visible in one's field of view is a prominent, shiny, gold plaque in front of the two microphones that says, "Do not adjust microphones." Given all the symbolism in the reliefs on the ceiling and just about everything else in the courthouse, you'd think there would be something more interesting to see while you argue the case of your life. ;)
Anyway, I had a great time visiting DC, and Alisa made me feel at home in her place. I have to say, though, that Washington DC is an ugly-ass city right now. Every beautiful building is surrounded by ripped-up roads, concrete barricades, orange pylons, and nasty fences. Way to make our nation's capital look crappy, guys.
*UPDATE* August 12, 2006: I hear the turtle is still in somewhere in the Natural History Museum. If you read this and see the turtle on display, can you snap a photo of it and e-mail it to me? :)