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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Scientific: Astronomical Snapshots - 1911-1915

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Astronomical Snapshots - 1911-1915

Photographic exploration encompasses not only the first views of distant peoples and landscapes, but also the uncovering of things previously hidden from human vision such as - the realms made visible through microphotography and the telescope. While every use of a telescope is an act of discovery, carrying us beyond the ordinary powers of the eye, this is all the more so when used to capture the distant reaches of space, its planets, stars and constellations.
The series of astronomical views shown in this exhibit, each carefully mounted on an identifying card, appear to be the work of an unidentified English amateur and were taken in the period 1911-1915. In addition to their views of constellations and of solar and lunar eclipses, the group is noteworthy for views of the Comet Delavan in 1914 and seventeen sequential views depicting the gradual appearance of the Comet Brooks in 1911. These views of the comet, complete from its beginning as an inconsequential speck in the sky, to its culmination as a very visible and flaming portent, show the rigorous scientific spirit of a photographer intent to document all stages of the comet‘s progress, even those which might appear insigificant. At the same time they also convey something of the excitement (or if you will, the growing scientific interest) it must have been to observe, night-by-night, the gradual unfolding of this celestial phenomenon.
Although it was of course completely unintended by the photographer, thanks to their sequential nature it is possible to reverse the telescope so to speak, and to read this series of views in the same way that we read an album of personal snapshots, as revealing a sequence of events in which the photographer himself was involved, if only under the detached mode of scientific observation. It then becomes interesting to note the manner in which month-long attention to a comet switches to views of lunar and solar eclipses. Unfortunately this interesting group draws to a close rather quickly in 1914, with the last dated images being views of constellations taken on January 11, 1915. While this may relate to a loss of interest in Astronomical photography, or simply a loss of the images taken afterwards, it is worth noting that this period also coincides with the outbreak of World War I in Europe.
Christopher Wahren 



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