Saturday, 30 January 2010

#8 Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow?

Futurescope #3 'Sun' will be a photograph of the Sun made by photographer Thierry Legault.

When we proposed Futurescope two years ago we intended to put an image of the sun into it at some stage.

We hadn't really decided what image to use this quarter until a few weeks ago. Our interest was in making a connection between plants/green space and solar energy upon which plant life (and therefore all of us, depend). We were also interested in the idea of placing an image of the sun on a building created to burn coal.

Until relatively recent times each civilisation has only used the energy of the sun only once as it falls on the surface of the planet. Our age has been different: we have used this energy twice.

We have used both sunlight and the solar energy stored/captured in fossil fuels.

Our economy is heavily dependent on the supply and consumption of these fuels and we have established a dependency on energy profligate lifestyles. Lingfield Point's 'Power House' is a 'temple' to that although the expense of running it is too great to bear now. Emerging carbon trading schemes place our use of fossil fuels at an economic premium and until very recently the environmental costs of exploiting this kind of 'stored' solar energy has not been a consideration and certainly wasn't an issue forseen by Paton and Baldwin when constructing the Power House sixty years ago.

The idea of including an image of the sun is part of the unfolding narrative that links to Beeman and Sunflowers, the previous images to have appeared in Futurescope. It is part of a speculative projection of a future world in which we would not be able to consume energy without dealing with consequences for ourselves that were not understood when this 'dependency' was established.

This is a future in which landscape (especially urban and post-industrial landscapes like that at Lingfield Point) would need to be productive without the energy of oil.

So back to the Thierry Legault's photograph. This is one of a batch of photographs taken by Thierry, showing the transit of the International Space Station across the sun. The first group were taken from the area of Mamers (Normandy, France) on September 17th 2006 at around 1:00pm local time and show the solar transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Atlantis. Thierry's website contains his photograph showing the making of the some of the pictures. Transits such as this have given him a lot of subject matter.

We think that Thierry's image is an astonishing and significant picture and feel priveledged that he has generously given us permission to use it in this project.

Thierry documents the process of how these pictures began to be made here:

By any standards this account demonstrates that this is an 'extreme' photograph. The very idea of pulling focus on an object so far away takes some beating! The image is all the more remarkable because the photographer could never have 'seen' it through the camera instead relying on a series of assumptions. In someways it was taken 'blind' which makes its beauty all the more compelling. The sun is a wan lemony gold and the image of the space craft a minuscule dot silhouetted against the vast mass of of the sun which is over a hundred times greater than the diameter of the earth.

It has a quality of absolute authenticity that many other contemporary images of the sun do not.

When we decided to approach Thierry for permission to use the image, we had been looking at and negotiating for the use of images taken from orbiting telescopes whose imagery is not affected by earth's atmosphere. Thierry's image shows the visual effect of atmosphere in ways that the images produced by Hubble and the Soho project do not.
However having trawled through hundreds of such high tec tech images of the kind produced for release in the media we have become slightly suspicious of them and the pictorial conventions they observe. Thierry's image is astonishingly direct by comparison. It somehow matters that it was taken from the surface of the earth.

These other images are heavily produced to an extent where they might be regarded as a creative genre in themselves.

Hubble for example is perhaps best known for this image of the M16 'Eagle Nebula' NGC 6611, the so called: "Pillars of Creation." NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University). What is astonishing is the extent to which a knowledge of the history of the depiction of landscape is required to decide matters such as orientation, composition, colouring etc. in preparing an image for media release. When looking at this material we are looking at an interpretation of the material that is depicted. Not to mention the strapline 'Pillars of Creation' (they're only pillars because its this way up. Pinch yourself, remember there is no single downward source of gravity in the material that is depicted here! So 'pillars' is utter nonsense). It is well known that the universe is a volatile mix of energy, matter and time but still - crikey that's naff! Clearly they are not afraid of biblical hubris or undisciplined thinking at the University of Arizona!

Well if Thierry's photograph recalls anything for me it is Brueghel's masterpiece "The Fall of Icarus" which happens to be one of my favourite old master paintings. Icarus is to be seen upside down in the water a split second after 'splash-down' down legs sticking out of the sea having just fallen out of the sky (just below the ship in the bottom left in case you missed it!) The catastrophe that has befallen him has gone completely unnoticed by the farmer and everyone else in the picture!

It is a small incident that is shown as having gone largely unobserved by everyone except the artist.