Lunar Photography Through The Ages

This guest post was written by Keavy Handley-Byrne of the Photographs & Photobooks Department, for our February 14 sale of Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobooks.

 

The moon has been the subject of unbridled fascination for poets, philosophers, scientists, artists and casual stargazers from the dawn human existence to the present day. Sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe, from what is now Sweden, was one of the first to correctly observe that the moon orbited Earth; Galileo Galilei was the first to understand the spots on the moon to be topographic features.

 

Lot 196: Ansel Adams, Moon and Half Dome, silver print, 1960, printed 1970s. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.

Lot 196: Ansel Adams, Moon and Half Dome, silver print, 1960, printed 1970s. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.

 

By 1874, about 35 years after the first photograph of the moon was taken, fascination with the moon had grown so obsessive among astrophotographers that Englishmen James Nasmyth and James Carpenter released a wildly successful book, The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite. The book was acclaimed by critics for its sharp photographic illustrations; in fact, these were photographs of highly detailed, carefully lit plaster mock-ups of lunar craters, based on drawings. These photographs would remain the highest-quality photographic images that depicted the moon until nearly a full century later. Even now, most photographs of the moon are composite images.

 

Lot 287: Ten photographic assemblages, each depicting a separate section of the moon. 1970s, assembled 2016. Estimate $5,000 to $7,500.

Lot 287: Ten photographic assemblages, each depicting a separate section of the moon. 1970s, assembled 2016. Estimate $5,000 to $7,500.

 

One lot in the February 14 sale includes 30 partial views of the moon, comprised of silver press prints that have been collaged together to create a sequence of ten images depicting Earth’s nearest celestial body in its entirety. These contemporary assemblages speak to the technical difficulties associated with lunar photography, and humanity’s continued drive to overcome those difficulties. Today, most lunar images are now made with specially crafted telephoto lenses, but for many years, tireless astrophotographers would make images of the moon’s surface through a telescope with an analog camera. These partial lunar views helped map the moon’s pockmarked surface.

 

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Lot 286: Archive of six period binders containing approximately 280 photographs depicting Apollo Missions 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17 from launch to splashdown, silver and chromogenic prints, 1969-72. Estimate $7,000 to $10,000.

 

In 1969, the Apollo 11 mission was launched, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins were each equipped with a Hasselblad camera. They returned to Earth with truly astonishing views of the moon from only 10,000 nautical miles away. Though not trained as photographers, the images made for NASA by these astronauts are striking and formally sophisticated.

 

Lot 285: Group of 22 photographs from NASA missions, 1965-84, printed circa 1985. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

Lot 285: Group of 22 photographs from NASA missions, 1965-84, printed circa 1985. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

 

These 30 photographs were selected by the astronauts from NASA’s archive for a 1985 exhibition at the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution titled Sightseeing: A Space Panorama. The images had never previously been published by the space agency.

 

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Lot 285: An astronaut on the moon.

 

The sale offers a uniquely rounded perspective on space travel, as there are images taken of and by the astronauts. There is also a collection of 67 photographs of the iconic live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

 

Lot 288: Collection of 67 photographs depicting the live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing, silver, chromogenic and Polaroid prints, 1969. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

Lot 288: Collection of 67 photographs depicting the live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing, silver, chromogenic and Polaroid prints, 1969. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

 

That such a breadth of lunar material exists, even in this one sale, is a testament to the obsession across cultures and time that continues to inspire us as we develop technologies that bring the moon into reach.

For more earthly photography, browse our full catalogue.