Saturday, April 29, 2006
There is currently a trend for uncovering documentary photographs and considering them in the context of landscape art practices and conventions - a recent example is the book Record Pictures: Photographs from the Archives of the Institution of Civil Engineers by Michael Collins. Perhaps the most spectacular set of documentary photographs recovered in this way is Michael Lite’s reprints from the NASA archive. His Full Moon site has some of these images.
Most of the best lunar landscapes were photographed from orbiting spacecraft, e.g. a view of Rima Ariadaeus, a terraced wall crater, and a lunar rille, all photographed by the Apollo 10 astronauts in May of 1969. The best known lunar landscape is one in which the moon is merely the frame: Earthrise (above) photographed by William A. Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 from Apollo 8. For the story of how the photograph came to be taken, see the account by Robert Zimmerman. The ABC site has the black and white image by Apollo 8’s commander Frank Borman, and the famous colour image rotated to the orientation Anders originally saw through the viewfinder.
Is there a danger in aestheticising these photographs? Landscape often gives rise to questions about the overlap between scientific observation and art. The status of these Apollo photographs might be likened to the paintings of John Russell (1745-1806), who made meticulous studies of the moon’s surface using a telescope, like this one.