50 Years on from Apollo 11: How Artists Have Responded to the Moon

Published in conjunction with a show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘Apollo’s Muse’ catalogues stellar lunar imagery

BY Kadish Morris in Culture Digest | 22 JUL 19

The first photograph of the moon was taken by John W. Draper from the roof of his observatory at New York University in 1840. Since then, images of Earth’s iconic satellite have abounded. Apollo’s Muse, published this month to coincide with an exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, showcases more than 170 photographs, prints, drawings and paintings of the inspiring astronomical body. According to museum director Max Hollein, both the show and the book consider ‘how photography introduced new dimensions to [the moon’s] documentation and interpretation’ and explore ‘the tremendous impact that the 1969 moon landing had on artists of the time – the lasting effects of which still resonate today’. The images included range from a 19th-century photographic atlas of the moon, produced by the Paris Observatory, to documentation of the 1960s Cold War Space Race.

John Adams Whipple, The Moon, 1857–60, salted paper prints from glass negatives. Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

John Adams Whipple, with his partner James Wallace Black, took this photograph of the moon using collodion-coated glass negatives, later employing them to produce salted paper prints. For a decade, the pair had been collaborating with scientists at Harvard College to develop new photographic processes for astronomical research.

Aleksandra Mir, First Woman on the Moon (detail), 1999, film still. Courtesy: the artist

Proclaiming herself as the ‘first woman on the moon’ on 28 August 1999, Aleksandra Mir staged her iconic ‘landing’ on a beach in the Netherlands, where she used the shoreline to form a rocky moon surface. The event was broadcast live on Dutch television, parodying the media frenzy of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Penelope Umbrico, Everyone’s Moon 2015–11–04 14:22:59, 2015. Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Collating more than one million full-moon photographs, Penelope Umbrico’s video catalogues both professional and amateur images uploaded to online photo-sharing resource, Flickr.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin Walking on the Surface of the Moon near a Leg of the Lunar Module, 1969, dye transfer print. Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin photographed each other walking on the moon for the folks back home on Earth. In this unforgettable image, Armstrong can be seen – Hasselblad camera strapped to his chest – in the reflection of Aldrin’s helmet.

Transparency of the Moon from Negatives Made at the Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, California, c.1896, gelatin silver transparency on glass. Courtesy: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Edward Holden, from the University of California’s Lick Observatory, was one of many astronomers using advanced-imaging technologies in a world race to create a comprehensive lunar atlas. Holden’s atlas, published in 1897, used enlarged glass positives to produce photogravures.

Kadish Morris is editorial assistant and staff writer of frieze, based in London, UK.