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Shedding Light On The Moon

By now the moon buzz may be a bit tedious. But here's an interesting fact:

In 1962, Mercury astronaut John Glenn bought a cheap 35mm camera at a Cocoa Beach, Fla., drug store, because he alone thought America's first orbital spaceflight deserved to be documented with still images. Photographer Michael Light shares this bit of information in his project Full Moon. Over time, Light explains, NASA recognized the value of in-flight photography and invested in medium-format Hasselblad cameras for the Gemini program — arguably the best cameras out there.

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There's a selection of NASA images that we've seen over and over again. The iconic photograph of Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the moon, for example, has become something of a cliche. Nevertheless, it is a provocative image; it symbolizes both the enduring American myth of Manifest Destiny and the human impulse to explore. Mostly, though, that footprint shows the forever-altered surface of the moon that for 4.5 billion years had remained completely pristine.

Nowadays, it's easy to take the moon for granted. But on the 40th anniversary of the very first Apollo moon landing, it's still interesting to take a step back and look through NASA's photo archives — to remember what made that first moon mission so incredible. Michael Light's Full Moon, published in 1999, is dedicated to precisely that.

As a landscape photographer drawn to new and unusual terrain, Light has something in common with the moonwalking astronauts. In an ideal world, he would have donned a spacesuit and taken photographs of the moon himself. Instead, he did the next best — and more reasonable — thing. He resurrected master negatives and transparencies from the NASA archives, and created a book of artfully digitized prints, mostly never before seen. The photos are from various Apollo and space exploration missions and were taken by the astronauts themselves.

A few moments with the photographs, and you'll find yourself immersed in a surreal world of cosmic winds, low gravity and 273 degrees of lunar heat. It's hard to imagine existing in those conditions, let alone photographing in a place where light and atmosphere are so far from what the human eye is used to. That's the real source of awe. And Michael Light's reverence for both the art of photography and the thrill of exploration imbues every image.

A similar project, 100 Suns, documents the era of nuclear testing, featuring previously classified photographs and spectacular explosions. Check out his Web site for more info on Full Moon and other works.

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