(l, b)≃(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates    (ongoing)

Cosmonauts – Gargarin on the left, Tereshkova in blue, seated – Postcard, 30 x 22cm

Cosmonauts – Gargarin on the left, Tereshkova in blue, seated – Postcard, 30 x 22cm

On a visit to Kiev in 2013, I came upon a number of vendors selling belongings out of cardboard boxes along a steep tourist street alongside one of the city’s historic cathedrals. A Laika (the sputnik dog) clock caught my eye at one vendor’s set up. Surrounding the clock were a few other Soviet era items, books, pins, etc. To the side was a partially opened dusty box containing photographs. The images were of individuals and groups in uniform, and what appeared to be scientific apparatus. Upon a closer look I spotted the most famous cosmonaut, Yuri Gargarin, in at least one of the photographs. Alongside the photographs were a number of vintage postcards (likely from Russia), and a stack of sleeved large format negatives held together in a bundle with a string. I couldn’t make out what the negatives contained, and the woman selling the items frowned at my attempt to untie the bundle. They would remain unseen. 

The woman explained, that the box was recently found at her uncle’s house who had passed away. He had worked with the space agency at Star City in Russia for his career. She wanted the contents of the box to stay together, and wouldn’t sell the photographs separately. After a negotiation I walked away with the box, and left the Laika clock behind.

The negatives didn’t catch my attention at the time. I was enthralled with the prospect of having discovered snapshots of the first man in space. Upon untying the bundle of negatives, a mystery ensued. The unmarked negatives all contained images of abstracted forms, possibly aerial views, possibly microscopic. A few of the negatives were torn, several required extensive cleaning, some were marred with smears of a hard translucent substance – which appears to be permanent. What exactly is the subject of these images? Is that really Yuri Gagarin, and Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space), in a couple of the accompanying snapshots? Who was this uncle collector, and what was his role at the space agency?

The title of the project, (l, b)=(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates, is the astronomical location of what scientists are calling a “cold spot”, or void. A patch of space that is empty. Up until the launch of the Hubble Telescope, there were several more empty patches in our known universe. Clever use of this orbiting camera, photographing what was believed to be empty space for extended exposures revealed that these empty spots are actually teeming with galaxies. Almost every recent advance in astronomical imaging has resulted in revealing something unexpected, along with an expanded knowledge. There was a period during the superpower space race when the Soviet Union had the lead; The first satellite, first man in space, first woman in space, first space station. Perhaps they also had an advance in distant imaging? 

For the creation of prints for the project, the travel of light is continued in the wet darkroom from the illumination of a much smaller star, an enlarger lamp. Light is streamed through the shadows of a negative to a waiting light sensitive sheet of paper, where silver nitrate permanently stains gradations of gray to form the photographic image. The process not dissimilar to the collection of faint light within the Hubble telescope forming a “deep field” view of distant galaxies – a portion of the universe that was only a part of the imagination not long ago. 

(l, b)=(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates, is the visualization of a possible world, in a possible galaxy, from a possible lost archive.


Inside the Box