Centuries of Moon depictions on display in New York

Images from Photographic Atlas Of The Moon on display at Apollo’s Muse: The Moon In The Age Of Photography, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Images from Photographic Atlas Of The Moon on display at Apollo’s Muse: The Moon In The Age Of Photography, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK • Some 400 years of depictions of the Moon, particularly via photography, are going on display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

The Met will unveil its exhibition, Apollo's Muse: The Moon In The Age Of Photography, today, about two weeks before the five-decade mark since the 1969 space trip that landed the first two people on Earth's satellite.

Visitors, however, are not limited to the recent past. On display will be works dating as far back as 1610, when Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei etched the giant glowing body in a book of astronomical observations.

"The Moon has always been an object of both science and art, observation and imagination," said exhibit curator Mia Fineman during a press presentation.

The Moon has been photographed since the medium's earliest days and, in 1840, American chemist John William Draper made the first daguerreotype - an early version of the photo using silver-plated copper.

Met director Max Hollein said: "The fascination with the Moon and the development of photography were linked and connected from the very beginning of this particular medium."

Special telescopes were developed with the sole purpose of photography and astrophotography became a trend in its own right.

As snapshots of the Moon grew ever more precise, they circulated among the general public, increasing its mystique while bringing it up close and in person for many for the first time.

At the turn of the 20th century, French astronomers Maurice Loewy and Pierre Henri Puiseux's Photographic Atlas Of The Moon marked a turning point.

From 1894 to 1908, the pair meticulously charted the Moon from the Paris Observatory, home to the most powerful telescope in the world at the time.

The entirety of their work has been reproduced for the first time for a museum at the Met.

"Without photography, they wouldn't have been able to land a space craft on the Moon," said Dr Fineman. "They needed to understand the geography to find a landing site."

Moon photos such as those on display at the Met have fuelled the imagination of not only the public, but also artists, novelists, painters and poets, providing the inspiration for such works as early French filmmaker Georges Melies' 1902 iconic short film, A Trip To The Moon.

"It's our closest celestial companion," Dr Fineman said of the Moon. "It's the only other planet we can see clearly with the naked eye. And so it's something that's both near and far, both constant and changing. It's a paradox."

The exhibit is open till Sept 22.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Centuries of Moon depictions on display in New York'. Print Edition | Subscribe