The Photography That Paved The Way For Apollo 11.


A Desire To Capture.

It can be hard to resist the urge to whip out your smartphone and snap a photo when you see a beautiful moon that is full and bright in the night sky. But this is an incredibly old impulse to capture the moon. Whether, it’s the hunter-gatherers who dabbed moonlike dots on cave walls in Lascaux in France or the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh it is believed that this desire to capture the moon stretches back as far as 15,000 years.


According to a new exhibition at George Eastman Museum in Rochester New York an explosion of moon-related imagery like never before came about in the late 1820s with the invention of photography. As well as enhancing our knowledge of Earth’s satellite the imagery – from romantic moonlit landscapes to groundbreaking astrophotography – also deepened our understanding of life right here on this planet.

“It reminds us that humans are small and inconsequential entities within the vast expanse of outer space and, at the same time, a powerful collective force when driven to explore our place in the universe,” curator Lisa Hostetler says.

The First Images.

Using a heliostat to reflect moonbeams through a lens and onto a metal plate the first known photograph of the moon was taken from a Manhattan rooftop in March 1840 by the chemist John William Draper. Large intricate prints of the moon’s meteorite-scarred topography, made by personalities such as Warren de la Rue, Lewis Rutherford, and Draper’s own son Henry, were made possible by advances in photography – first wet collodion glass plates then dry plates – by the end of the 19th century. “For most people, such images were the first accurate and detailed pictures of the moon’s surface they ever encountered,” Hostetler says. “It allowed them to see rather than only imagine how the moon looked up close.”

In order to record and map the moon’s lonely plains and craters the Lunar probes and orbiters Surveyor 1, Ranger 7, and Luna 3 were essentially film and television cameras being launched into space by the US and Soviet governments in the 1960s. In the pioneering astronaut Neil Armstrong’s words, an event that showed “that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that,” Apollo 11’s landing on the moon on July 20 1969 was made possible by the spectacular shots that the orbiter probes beamed back to help identify potential sites for the Apollo 11 landing. Further experimental shots would also be later taken by Hasselblad-wielding astronauts…

Eloquent Observations.

From the early 1970s and continuing to this day these events spawned an uptick of space-themed art and photography. According to curator Hostetler, “an eloquent observation of the way we map our personal lives onto historic events and discoveries so that they become intertwined in our memories,” has been created by Linda Connor’s Lunar Fantasy which transposes hand-coloured snapshots onto images from the Lunar Orbiters mission which are featured in the exhibition. Also included in the show is Bill Finger’s Ground Control which draws on his own childhood fascination with the Apollo missions shadowing a fictional character who longs to leave Earth for space.

Featuring the moon as a central element Finger is also working on a new lunar series. “People have probably had a fascination with the moon since there were people,” Finger says. “There is that glowing mysterious soft light that it produces, which lends itself to romanticism and folklore. I think all of that plays on the human psyche. … It reflects the mysteries that make life interesting.”

Words by Elijah (Content Marketer) via WIRED.