PDN Photo of the Day

A Deep Look into NASA’s Apollo Photo Archives

Using modified Hasselblads, the astronauts who participated in NASA’s Apollo Program made nearly 20,000 photographs of moon landings, moon walks, and the lunar surface and horizon. For a new book out this month, The Moon 1968–1972, publisher T. Adler Books has singled out 45 black-and-white and color images from the six successful lunar landings. The selected images are “unintended artful compositions” with a “beautiful, deft outtake quality,” the publisher says in an essay which also explains how the astronauts documented their adventures.

It’s a bit like a collector discovering a trove of delightful family vacation snapshots at a flea market, only this family happens to be NASA. The images are drawn from The Project Apollo Archive, an online gallery assembled with NASA’s help by a hobbyist, Kipp Teague. His Flickr page for the project boasts more than 14,000 images and 51,000 followers.

Images in The Moon are quirky and fascinating and strange to the point that they look almost unreal. Against the pale gray surface of the moon and jet black sky, colors—on landing craft, lunar rovers and other equipment—pop. In one image, light reflects off the lunar module as it carries Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface, creating dreamy streaks across the frame. In other images, astronauts’ bodies cast long, graphic shadows. And light leaks color several of the images.

At a time when archival images are often hastily assembled into digital galleries that get passed around briefly on social media, it’s especially satisfying to sit with an affordable ($18), carefully edited, designed and printed archive of photographs of historical significance and esthetic value. Texts include excerpts from a speech President John F. Kennedy made about the Apollo program, and from an E.B. White story for The New Yorker recalling the first moon landing. Though ostensibly created for documentary purposes, these photos were made by explorers who had been trained to use the cameras, and who had practiced by photographing family vacations and other aspects of their lives on Earth. Perhaps some of the “unintended artful compositions” weren’t so unintended after all. —Conor Risch

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