(l, b)≃(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates
The title, “(l, b)≃(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates”, refers to an astronomical location of a cold spot, or possible supervoid –– A hole in the cosmos that is unusually cold and empty. Up until the deployment of the orbiting Hubble Telescope, there were many more voids in the universe. Gaps that existed because of limitations in our ability to see further. By operating the Hubble Telescope like a camera in a night time environment, long “deep field” exposures revealed that many of what were presumed to be empty spots are actually teeming with an astonishing number of galaxies and stars never seen before. Light from these astronomical sources were simply too faint to be seen without the technological leap of a telescope in orbit. As advances in both imaging, and our ability to position cameras in more distant places continues to evolve, views that expand knowledge and challenge reality of the day will not end.
In 2013 I visited the city of Kiev to produce closing photographs for a project exploring pan-European urban rejuvenation, titled ‘Nylon Chrysalis’. As the project was a night time study, my days were spent scouting locations and visiting the sights of Kiev. On a steep shop lined street alongside one of the city’s landmark cathedrals, I came upon a number of vendors selling belongings laid out on blankets. A Laika (the sputnik dog) clock caught my eye at one. Surrounding the clock were other Soviet era items; books, pins, badges. To the side was an open cardboard box containing photographs. My attention was immediately captured as the photographs seemed to be almost all space related –– of cosmonauts, rockets, and odd scientific apparatus. With a fascination in the space race, growing up in the age of moon landings and shuttles, a discovery of images from behind the Iron Curtain was an almost treasure trove. What particularly got my heart racing was that the photographs appeared to be original, not copies or reprints, and many had a ‘snapshot’ quality as if taken by a bystander rather than an official photographer.
Hidden beneath the photographs at the bottom of the box was a dusty stack of 4x5” large format negatives bundled tightly together with a string. They were dirty, and some appeared to be in quite a fragile, aged state. The woman selling the items frowned at my attempt to untie the bundle. Unable to see them individually, I couldn’t make out what the negatives were of. The negatives would remain unseen.
The vendor’s English was better than my Ukrainian, but communication was a challenge. While grandparents on my father’s side were Ukrainian emigres, my language skills (embarrassingly) go no further than “yes”, “no”, “thank you”, and “I would like cabbage rolls”. I eventually worked out that the box was found at the vendor’s uncle’s house who had recently passed away. He had (apparently) worked in Moscow, at the Space Agency. I made a selection and attempted to purchase a few of the photographs, but the seller insisted on a price for the box together. After a negotiation, I walked away with the box. The Laika clock stayed behind.
Prints from Galactic Coordinates are made in a darkroom from negatives using traditional light sensitive silver gelatine photographic paper. To create an image, the photo paper receives an accumulation of light projected through a negative in an enlarger. When an exposure is made, light touches the paper causing silver in the emulsion coated on the paper to turn black. This process is not dissimilar to an image formed by the exposure of light received by a telescope of a distant galaxy. While printing, photogram like interventions are combined with the image to suggest a technical or scientific nature I see in the images –– topographic grids, points of interest, irregular mosaic like edges. This is a process requiring multiple stages of exposure with the careful staging of objects on the surface of the photographic paper. Each of an edition produced during a printing session is unique, the result of an almost performative act that brings a cycle of discovery and interpretation of the negative to a close.