Selenography or the history of the Moon

Stars can only be seen at night.

Photographing astronomical objects is very closely connected to the genesis of photography itself.

In 1838, one year before the announcement of the discovery of photography, by the astronomer - politician Arago before the French parliament, the first picture of the moon was taken by Daguerre. Since the beginning of photography the medium was destined to play an important role in astronomy. Or was it vice versa?

What is the influence of astronomy in the development of photography? Photography was nearly simultaneously discovered by Fox Talbot (1800-1877) in England and Louis Mandé Daguerre in France. Both had relationships in the astronomical scene. Daguerre via Arago and Talbot via Herschel. John Herschel (1792-1871) played an important role in the development of the negative / positive procedure. Hence the hommage of Paul Cava to this important astronomer. Paul Cava is a modern American Photographer who makes photo collages based on historical images. His work can only be viewed on rare occasions in Europe.

Within the Astronomy there were diffirent questions which photography could give a clear answer to: How many stars are there, exact location of the stars, the mutual brightness ratio of the stars, do the Moon and the Sun have an atmosphere.

All over the world, Photographers , opticians and astronomers were trying to answer these questions.

Obviously, the moon was the first object to be photographed. Several moon atlases had already been published before, but there were contradictions between the different publications. Every time there was the problem of the right level of detail. Photography could give a clear answer to this problem.

Whether or not there was life on the moon could also been answered by photography. Even after the first clear photos of the Moon there was still doubt. See "Les terres du ciel", 1884 of Camile Flammarion. Two original Moonphotos (Woodburry types) were published in there. One of those by James Nasmyth was first published in his own book "The Moon considered as a planet". This moonphoto wasn't an original image but a photo of a crater model made out of plaster. For Camille Flammarion it still wasn't clear whether or not there was life on the Moon.

The rare magic image lantern slides of 1870 give a good illustration on the common world view of those days.

It's only because the vulgarisation of the Moon photos in the form of stereo views that the world view would evolve and that it would become clear that the Earth probably was the only inhabited planet. Within the thinking of that time this was an important evolution that was accelerated by astrophotography.

The idea for a detailed photographical map of the Moon was launched in 1887 in Paris. Moritz Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre-Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) supported by Charles le Morvan (1865-1933) started this ambitious project in 1880. Between 1894 and 1909, about 500 observation nights and over a 1000 takes later the map of the Moon was published in Heliogravure. It took 15 years because only under exceptionally good circumstances ("seeing") the moon could be photographed. The takes were made with the special Coudé refractor of the Obeservatoire de Paris. A refractor with a diameter of 74cm and a focal distance of 15 meters! For this time and age a huge telescope of 6.000 kg.

In the exhibition we have the "Carte Photographique de la Lune" of 1914. This is an addition to the "Atlas Photographique de la Lune" of 1905. The Atlas was completed based upon unpublished images. The photographic Moon atlas of Puiseux, Loewy and le Morvan has become very rare. This is a unique opportunity to view these photographs outside of a museum.

The photographic Moon atlas remained a reference until 1970 when NASA needed a more detailed and more up-to-date Moon atlas to determine possible landing sites for the Apollo flights. Under supervision of the astronomer Kuiper the best moon photos worldwide were assembled. Amongst others, the ones from the Lick observatory were used.

With the uprising of space travel these atlases lost their importance. The Moon photos of the different manned and unmanned space flights are used now. See numerous examples in the exhibition.

The apotheosis and the ultimate proof of the absence of life on the Moon was delivered in 1969 with the first man on the Moon. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong wrote history and provided some icons of Photography. The most well known is probably the portrait of Buzz Aldrin made by Neil Armstrong.

Discover this exhibition ...

Xavier Debeerst

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