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On Astrophotography

The Rho Ophiuchi Clouds © Artem Mironov Read

One of the most popular exhibitions at the Royal Observatory is the Astronomy Photographer of the Year. Drawn out of curiosity, I have been many times to see the shows at the Observatory - a wonder of technological achievement; cameras focused on galaxies, long exposures of the night sky and visions of the aurora borealis. You can marvel at the images and in scientific research see the purpose of such creations to study our universe but ultimately these photographs are just that, technically gifted photographs of astronomical phenomena and nebula, never philosophically questioning our relationship to the stars.

However, the criteria of the exhibition is astrophotography and not to create artworks pondering the nature of existence and as such has its place in coaxing a new generation's interest in science.

If you compare Royal Observatory exhibition to artworks such as Thomas Ruff's Star Series, seeming abstract large scale photographs taken from the archives of the European Southern Observatory, then the approach is distinct. Ruff creates images of abstract composition with distant stars, galaxies and nebula seen as patterns of beautiful simplicity as indeed they are without expert knowledge to unlock their secrets. Ruff, clearly fascinated with astronomy, is contemplating the Universe and its mysteries using appropriated images to question what we actually see, as to look upon the stars is gaze upon the past.

My interest in astronomy is in the relationship that we to the stars which stretches back to the dawn of mankind, where myths were born out of distant worlds glimpsed in the night sky, Earth was navigated by the constellations and disasters prophesied by supernovas.

What has become of such myths now we are closer to unlocking the secrets of the Universe then ever before? It would appear, even though superstition has been banished to the winds, scientific advancements have only created new myths, myths of time travel, life on distant galaxies, spaceships and travel at the speed of light, ideas grasped in science and transformed into fiction.

Man's relationship to the Universe is a shifting complex symbiosis undefinable by astronomy alone.

Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year is at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich until 22nd July 2018.