Vintage NASA Photographs
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For All Mankind: Vintage NASA Photographs 1964 - 1983

Breese Little Gallery, London, 22 January - 22 February 2014



You recognise that you’re not there because you deserve to be there, that you were just lucky, you’re the representative of humanity at that point in history, having that experience, in a sense, for the rest of mankind.

Apollo Astronaut, For All Mankind, Al Reinert, Eureka, 1989.


We are standing today at the dawn of a new space age, which will transform the human relationship with the world outside our world. Within just a few months we will see the overdue emergence of the private astronaut.

Richard Branson, ‘From the Mojave to the Moon’, The Economist: The World in 2014, October 2013.

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This exhibition comprises an overview of space exploration from 1964 to 1983, providing a comprehensive selection of over 100 rare and vintage NASA photographs. The achievements of NASA and the Apollo programme languished in the popular imagination from the end of the 1970s until the early 2000s, neglected in the wake of previous euphoria. The exploration of Mars, space tourism, the commercial satellite market and China’s recent rover landing on the Moon are clear signals that space exploration is once again at the very forefront of public and, increasingly, private agendas. The exploration of space has likewise renewed its grip on the popular consciousness. Motion pictures such as Moon (2009), Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (due for release 2014) are fresh examples of the narrative possibilities of space in the Hollywood science fiction tradition.

The ennobling rhetoric employed by JFK to launch the American space programme has been superseded by a new reality. According to Richard Branson ‘many more people have paid and signed up to travel to space with us than have actually been to space in history’. While evidently a commercial endeavour, Virgin retains the notion of ‘mankind’ as a guiding ideological principle: ‘Our mission is to transform access to space for the benefit of life on Earth’. Other nations such as China and India are now reaching for their own galactic dream. And yet the same problematic moral quandary remains: should such significant sums of money be spent on space exploration ahead of social welfare?

 Despite this, the exploration of space is undoubtedly one of the single most important endeavours in humanity’s quest for self-knowledge.  As Stephen Hawking writes in A Brief History of Time (1988): ‘Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.’ Intriguingly, joint research recently released by the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Hawaii suggests that there are likely to be 40 billion ‘earth-like’ planets capable of, or with the potential to, support life in the Milky Way alone. The chances of a solitary existence are clearly dwindling and the photographs included here are important historical artefacts from the dawn of the space age and this quest to know what lies beyond.

The vintage photographs on display, many of which retain original NASA catalogue stamps on the reverse, were taken by the men, women and machines of NASA over a period of 20 years. They include photographs from the Gemini 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 missions; Apollo 4, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17; the Mars Viking missions and the Jupiter Voyager missions. They also include historic images such as the world’s first picture of the Earth taken from the vicinity of the Moon (December, 1966), and iconic images such as the ‘Earthrise’ view taken from Apollo 8 and the ‘Blue Marble’, the first ever full Earth view (Apollo 17, December 1972).


Neil Armstrong Buzz Aldrin’s gold-plated visor reflects Armstrong and the Lunar Module Apollo 11, July 1969,Vintage chromogenic print, 20.2 x 25.4 cm.jpg

Encountering the Astronomical Sublime: Vintage NASA Photographs 1961 - 1980

Breese Little Gallery, London, 19 September - 25 October 2014


Suddenly, from behind the rim of the Moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realise this is Earth…home.

Edgar Mitchell (b.1930), Apollo 14

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Encountering the Astronomical Sublime: Vintage NASA Photographs 1961 - 1980 follows the critical success of For All Mankind: Vintage NASA Photographs 1964 – 1983 (January – February 2014) and addresses the ‘sublime’ in historic NASA photography. The sublime is perceived in the presence of power, awe and scale, and felt in the sensation of helplessness at the realisation of our own insignificance. And yet it entails a sense of empowerment as we measure, map, quantify and record, seeking to understand the mysteries of the solar system and the universe through science, logic and technology.

The exhibition borrows its title from Elizabeth Kessler’s publication Picturing the Cosmos: Hubble Space Telescope Images and the Astronomical Sublime (2012). Kessler establishes the sublime as an integral conceptual framework for interpreting Hubble Space Telescope images due to the manner in which they are produced and released by NASA. The incomprehensible scale of astronomical phenomena and energy wavelengths unperceivable to the human eye, are selected, framed, layered and artificially coloured to create intentionally beautiful images of the cosmos. Far from objective records, they are crafted to epitomise an unknowable grandeur.

The pursuit of the sublime in NASA photography is, however, guided by fiscal motives as the release of carefully composed images by the Hubble Heritage Project is part of a much wider campaign to enchant the taxpayer. Images are far greater ambassadors for public expenditure than huge swathes of raw astronomical data, a fact embraced and exploited by NASA’s public relations department for over half a century. So while the most aesthetically arresting images released by NASA might retain an air of jovial naivety, or a childlike abandon spent on the surface of the moon, their beauty is not purely incidental.

This new collection features over 80 vintage photographic works, including a unique tiled mosaic composed of 76 individual two inch-square black and white photographs, as well as rare medium format (28 x 35 cm) and regular format (20 x 25 cm) vintage photographs. The selected images have significant aesthetic merit beyond their primary function as documentation, whether through careful framing or cropping, atmospheric light effects, a compelling sense of scale and grandeur or geological formations which border on the abstract. Subjects include the Sun, Venus, the Earth, the Moon, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter, with photographs taken as part of the Surveyor, Lunar Orbiter, Gemini, Apollo, Mariner, Viking, Voyager and Skylab missions.

The sublime in NASA photographs from the 1960s and 70s, the Hubble Space Telescope and Hubble Heritage Project and, more recently, those captured by the Curiosity Rover on Mars, is a vital component of their production and function. Kessler presents compelling and extensive links between the Romantic landscapes of the American West, captured and depicted in the late nineteenth century by painters Thomas Moran (1837 – 1926) and Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) and photographers William Henry Jackson (1843 – 1942) and Timothy O’Sullivan (1840 – 1882). Embracing the majesty of their subject, these artists developed a visual language of the sublime which Kessler identifies in the Hubble Heritage Project images. The influence of iconic landscape photographer Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984) is likewise discernible in NASA photography from both past and present missions.

Breese Little are delighted to present this new exhibition following the significant acclaim of For All Mankind: Vintage NASA Photographs 1964 – 1983 (January – February 2014), which included press coverage across The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, CBS, BBC Mundo, NBC News, Shortlist, Metro, Daily Mail Online, ELEPHANT, Monocle, PORT, Esquire, Buzz Feed UK, Photomonitor, History Revealed, ArtLyst, Juxtapoz, Le Cool, The Atlantic, Co.Design, Gizmodo and The Escapist. The collection was also exhibited at Photo Shanghai, a new art fair dedicated to photography in September 2014.

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dark frame / deep field

Caroline Corbasson, Dan Holdsworth, Philippe Pleasants, Sophy Rickett, Vintage NASA Photographs, We Colonised the Moon

Curated by Marek Kukula, astronomer, writer and broadcaster and Melanie Vandenbrouck, curator and art historian

Breese Little Gallery, London, 4 June - 1 August 2015


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When NASA circulated the first documentary and scientific photographs taken from space to the public in the 1960s they brought the alien and distant into stark proximity with the mundane. With Earthrise (1968), Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders captured the emotional impact of the Space Race: allowing us to reflect on the beauty, frailty and unicity of our planet Earth and our place within the universe.

Today, as telescopes and spacecraft send back images which are arguably just as powerful in their aesthetic impact as in their scientific content, it is perhaps artists who are best equipped to interpret what these dispatches tell us about humanity’s relationship to a cosmos in which we seem ever smaller and less significant. In dark frame / deep field, six contemporary artists explore the limits of our ability to image, map and define the universe, with artworks displayed alongside vintage photographs from NASA that first brought the breath-taking scale of outer space into view.

Two works by Caroline Corbasson span the entire history of telescopic exploration conceptually, referencing Galileo’s revolutionary drawings of the Moon from 1609 as well as the 13 billion-light-year compression of 2005’s Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Her large-scale Crater (2013) inevitably conjures up early observational sketches of the lunar surface, as well as more recent photographic moonscapes, but is in fact a depiction of a 50,000 year-old impact feature in Arizona. Meanwhile, with a meticulous layering of star maps in Naked Eye (2014), Corbasson seems to transform the flat cartography of the sky into a three-dimensional simulation of the entire universe.

In his Blackout series (2010), Dan Holdsworth presents the Earth itself as an alien object, turning an astronomical eye back towards our own planet. Holdsworth defies perceptions by reversing negative / positive values, morphing the sooty ice of the Icelandic Sólheimajökull glacier into a spectral veil set against the inscrutable darkness of the northern sky. Barren and supernatural, the transmuted geology recalls the digital data beamed back by probes that have mapped the terrains of Venus, our solar system’s moons and asteroids.

Astronomical photographs record time as well as space: not only do they compress a duration of seconds, minutes or hours into a single exposure, they also capture light that has been travelling towards us for years, decades or millennia. Philippe Pleasants’ poetic skyscapes (2010-11) condense the passage of time as marked out by the motion of the Moon, Sun and stars. In his solar and lunar durations the temporal element is spatially anchored in specific English landscapes, but in Trace 3 and 4, the sky’s motions are stripped of all earthly references to become an abstract grid of curving lines.

With Objects in the Field (2013) and the Observation series (1991/2013), the result of a collaboration with Dr Roderick Willstrop from the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Sophy Rickett unearths the archaeology of astronomy itself.  Rickett’s work juxtaposes deep time with history on a human scale by resurrecting astronomical photographs which, although they are only a few decades old, are already technologically obsolete.

Displaying their characteristic playfulness, We Colonised the Moon (Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser) reveal the political implication of Neil Armstrong’s ‘small step’, when the Moon irrevocably became a place, rather than a distant light in the sky. In bold, ‘pop’ colours, the silkscreen prints Frigoris and Tranquillitatis (2012) re-appropriate lunar cartographic data from the US Geological Survey to query humanity’s claims on Earth’s satellite. Using the ‘high-brow’ rhetoric of traditional museum display, As Good as a Moonrock (2012) questions conventional methods of classification and the authenticity of lunar exploration.

By juxtaposing early space photographs - whose value at the time was as much about public relations as it was about science - with creative responses from today’s more cynical world, dark frame / deep field demonstrates a maturing engagement with the sublime spectacle beyond our world’s atmosphere.  At the time harbingers of the future, vintage NASA photographs have the graininess and faded colours of holiday snaps of the same period, giving them an aura of nostalgia and optimism. But our frontiers never cease to expand.  On 14 July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons probe will rendez-vous with Pluto after a ten year voyage, bringing another world into sharp focus for the first time. In the seventeenth century it was the beauty of Galileo’s drawings which brought home the full revolutionary import of his discoveries. In the twenty-first century, as technological advances give us access to ever more dizzying and humbling astronomical vistas, art is once more playing a vital role in conveying the meaning and implications of cosmic exploration.

dark frame / deep field is curated by Marek Kukula, astronomer, writer and broadcaster and Melanie Vandenbrouck, curator and art historian.

The exhibition is kindly supported by our exhibition media partner, super/collider, an independent agency which explores science from a creative standpoint.

The show coincides with the arrival of the NASA space probe New Horizons at Pluto on 14 July 2015.