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"Full Moon: Apollo Mission Photographs of the Lunar Landscape"
1999-08-02 until 2000-01-11
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco, CA, USA United States of America

Spectacular, rarely seen scientific images charting the American exploration of the moon have been chosen for their high aesthetic achievement and will be presented in the upcoming exhibition Full Moon: Apollo Mission Photographs of the Lunar Landscape.Image: Charles Conrad, Apollo 12 Alan Bean Holding Soil Sample Container at Sharp crater, November 14-24, 1969 direct-digital monochrome color-coupler print 24.5 x 24.5 inches Image courtesy NASA; digital scan and print Michael Light

The Apollo missions of 1967 to 1972 made an indelible impression on all who witnessed them from afar; a small number of universally recognized images taken on these missions have become icons of the twentieth century. Over the last four years, San Francisco-based photographic artist Michael Light gained unprecedented access to the film masters from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) archive of 32,000 Apollo photographs, from which he chose a small number for this exhibition. Presented on the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing, Lights selection pushes beyond the few ubiquitous Apollo images to create a fresh understanding of the lunar landscape through images of unparalleled clarity and grand scale. These vast panoramas of the moon, seen both from above and on its surface, invite comparison with a long tradition of landscape images in art and photography and prompt a redefinition of our ideas of landscape and the sublime. Full Moon features fifty-one unique photographic vistas, the distillation of Lights long obsession with the disorientation, brilliant clarity and dramatic immensity of the lunar surface. Originally inspired by the resonance Light perceived between lunar landscapes and a group of aerial photographs he was making over the desert of the American Southwest, Full Moon attempts to bring both the artist and the viewer as close as possible to experiencing this strange and wonderful environment. After selecting images and scanning NASA masters at high resolution, the artist spent over a year working with the digital files, to create exhibition-quality pictures. The images were printed on photographic paper using the latest in direct digital printing techniques, resulting in the sharpest, most pristine presentation of this imagery ever made. Light has printed these images, originally shot by the Apollo astronauts, on a scale that truly reflects the awe-inspiring nature of the lunar landscapes themselves -- some prints range in size from 24.5 by 24.5 inches to 49 by 192 inches. He has also arranged them in discrete sections, one of them expressing the minimalist beauty of the moon seen as an object from far away. The formal elegance of these pictures, taken at a distance of many miles from the moons distinct surface, is inspiring. Among the most attractive pictures in Full Moon is a photograph of the Hadley Rille, an ancient volcanic lava tunnel. This piece is, according to Light, the most classically beautiful of the images judging by earthly scenic and landscape norms. Taken by Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin, the photograph captures the seductive essence of this winding canyon, which is a mile wide and stretches over 80 miles in length. The exhibition also includes pictures that offer another, more complex view of what a landscape image is and might be, images that document the Apollo astronauts interacting with their foreign environment and the equipment they used on the missions. A photograph of Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott records the scientific sampling of the moons primordial crust. The photographs documentary intention is nearly eclipsed by its richly layered visual composition. The manner in which black-and-white film reacts to an absence of atmosphere creates dramatic, velvety shadows; here the startling contrast between the bright metallic highlights on the tools and the soft, heavy shadows underscores the invasive nature of much human exploration. Not only do the Full Moon photographs represent the only alien landscape that human beings have had the opportunity to record personally on film, for Michael Light they implicate, in a truly original way, both the seduction and violence of territorial expansionism -- in particular, the American mythology of Manifest Destiny, the West and the Frontier. As Light points out, the Apollo photographs radically changed the way humans conceive of themselves in the universe, forever. We thought Apollo was about going to the moon -- and it certainly was -- but its most enduring legacies are all about the Earth. Lights textless, cinematic book Full Moon, featuring fifty-seven black-and-white and seventy-two color photographs and an afterword by the artist, accompanies the exhibition. Published in June 1999 in hardcover by Knopf and in seven additional languages worldwide, Full Moon will be available at the SFMOMA MuseumStore for $50. To order please call 415/357-4035 or email museumstore@sfmoma.org.

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