In the beginning there was only the light of the stars

Not the pictures of celebrities from the catwalk but deep sky objects that are invisible to human eye.
In its early days (around 1839) photography had a hard time breaking through.
Luckily the astronomers were there to give photography a boost.

The astronomers were there when Daguerre’s and Nièpce’s discoveries were announced in the French parliament.  François Arago, French member of parliament and astronomer, granted both discoverers their pension but at the same time he stated that the primary mission of photography was to support astronomers in their discoveries.

François Arago was visionary about the possibilities and the impact photography could have on the sciences and especially on astronomy. He announced the moon photography and the possibility of a photographic moon atlas.

François Arago photographie

About sixty years later the French astronomers Moritz Loewy and Pierre-Henri Puiseux made the first photographic moon atlas (1894). A fine example of a photo of the moon by Loewy and Puiseux can be seen in the exhibition.

François Arago also spoke about the possibility to take photos of the stars and discover worlds beyond the naked eye.

François Arago photography of the stars

Under the impulse of Admiral Amédée Mouchez,  again a French astronomer, the major observatories worldwide started the ambitious project to photograph all the stars.  The idea of the Carte Photographique du Ciel (1911 – 1940) was born.
The Royal Observatory of Belgium was one of these observatories.  The project failed but was a milestone in astronomy. 

At the same time the American Astro-photographer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923) was working on his “Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way”.  Edward Emerson Barnard  was one of the most important pioneers in astrophotography.  The Atlas is a very rare and important milestone published in limited edition.

The exhibition shows one of the few still available copies of the “Photographic Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way” (1927) and the Carte Photographique du Ciel from the Royal Observatory of Belgium.

There was a third field of interest that François Arago talked about in his announcement speech: solar photography.  At the time there was still a lot to discover about the composition of the Sun.

François Arago on solar photography

In the exhibition you can discover photos of solar eclipses and a tribute to the forgotten Australian CSIRO Solar Observatory.

Solar eclipses have always been a photogenic subject.  Amateur as well as professionals made lots of photos of eclipses.  Photographing a solar eclipse is a challenge to render the solar atmosphere visible.

Both this historical relationship and our personal interest in the subject have resulted in a strong focus in the exhibition on this unique marriage between science and art.

A photograph of something invisible, can only be honest and correct.

© Xavier Debeerst, November 2012

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