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Documenting humanity’s journey into space: Over 2,400 iconic space images are up for auction

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Lead image: ‘The ‘Blue Marble’, the first human-taken photograph of the Earth fully illuminated, December 7-19, 1972, Harrison Schmitt [Apollo 17]. Estimate: £15,000-31,500. Offered in Voyage to Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection, November 6-19, 2020, Online’ Caption and image courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2020

Christie’s has placed up for auction a massive collection of images, many of which document the American space program from the 1940s through the 1970s. The collection, ‘Voyage to Another World: The Victor-Martin Malburet Photograph Collection,’ includes 700 lots comprising more than 2,400 separate items.

Bidding began on November 6 and continues until November 19 for lots 1-325 and November 20 for the remaining lots. Christie’s states that the collection traces ‘the artistic heritage of the Apollo Missions and Golden Age of space exploration.’

‘The first photograph of man in space [Large Format], Ed White’s first American EVA over Hawaii, June 3-7, 1965, James McDivitt [Gemini IV]. Estimate: £6,000-8,000. Offered in Voyage to Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection, November 6-19, 2020, Online’ Caption and image courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2020

Martin-Malburet has built this collection over the last 15 years. He has been interested in images captured in space since he accompanied his father to an auction. ‘It was a sale of astronautical artifacts,’ says Martin-Malburet, ‘We bought various things, including an autograph of Yuri Gagarin. But the item that impressed me most was a photograph, the famous shot of Buzz Aldrin on the moon with the lunar module reflected in his visor. It is such a powerful image: one lonely figure in another world. And since Aldrin is anonymous inside his spacesuit, he seems to represent all humanity.’

Victor ultimately studied mathematics and physics at university, and he says he wanted to blur the boundary between art and science. Martin-Malburet says of the moon landing photos in particular, ‘Between 1968 and 1972, 24 privileged humans traveled a quarter of a million miles to a place that was not Earth and a record of it all exists. But the complete story has not been told. At the time, only a tiny fraction of the material was released to the media. The rest remained in Houston, unpublished.’

‘First human-taken photograph from space; orbital sunset, February 20, 1962, John Glenn [Mercury Atlas 6]. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in Voyage to Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection, November 6-19, 2020, Online’ Caption and image courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2020

Many of the images in the collection have not been seen by people outside of NASA and various research institutions. Many images didn’t include accompanying information, leaving Martin-Malburet to dig through NASA’s transcripts of space missions to determine when each photograph in the collection was captured, such as whether it was on the way into space or on the way back to Earth, information NASA didn’t record. Martin-Malburet also often had to determine who the photographer of each image was, as ‘crediting the author’ is very important to him. By collating the available information and filling in the gaps, we now, for the first time, have a more complete story of many important moments in our history of space exploration.

There are many great images in the collection, including a photograph of Neil Armstrong on the moon, seen below. For decades, even NASA didn’t know this image existed. Martin-Malburet determined that Buzz Aldrin picked up the camera only once and it was to record this photograph of the first man on the moon. Otherwise, Armstrong himself was the photographer for the duration of the mission.

‘The only photograph of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, July 16-24, 1969, Buzz Aldrin [Apollo 11]. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. Offered in Voyage to Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection, November 6-19, 2020, Online’ Caption and image courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2020

Further ‘firsts’ in the collection include the first image of the earth rising over the moon’s horizon. Ed White’s first spacewalk, seen is recorded as well, and is the first full-face portrait of the Earth itself captured during the very last Apollo mission.

Christie’s writes that ‘Anyone looking at such photographs is bound to feel awestruck.’ It continues, ‘So are they genuine art objects?’ To that question, Martin-Malburet answers, ‘They are absolutely works of art. Artists strive for new ways to express themselves, a visual vocabulary. The astronauts had the blank vistas of space as their subject and their canvas. And the fact that you have humans behind the camera is really important. They saw themselves as scientists, but somehow they embraced the sublime. Through them, art broke free of gravity.’

It’s a wonderful collection. To view the entire collection, visit Christie’s. While the images themselves certainly hold a lot of value, Martin-Malburet’s work in contextualizing each photograph and determining the photographer adds a lot. As mentioned earlier, bidding is ongoing and ends on November 19 or 20, depending on the lot in question. Each lot includes an estimated value, and the estimates range from around $1,000 USD to over $60,000.

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