As well as being the first men to walk on the moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts also took some of its best photographs. The in-flight images recorded by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are among the most iconic ever taken, and when space agency Nasa gave photographer Michael Light the chance to go through the master dupe film roll of Apollo 11, he understandably jumped to it. Light visited Nasa’s gloomy basement photographic store, where the film is kept along with hundreds of Hasselblad black-and-white negatives and colour transparencies, plus the 5×5-inch panoramic images of the lunar surface taken from orbit by the giant mapping cameras on later missions. He edited a selection, then enhanced them electronically, and showed them for the first time in London at the Hayward Gallery back in 1999. Now, Light has released prints of the pictures, and is showing them at a small selling exhibition later this month. His remarkable choices of composition and colour are as striking now as a decade ago, but what you see is the sheer magic of space exploration. Apollo 11’s sling-shot journey still leaves us wide eyed at the engineering and technology, and the spirit of derring-do. And then there’s our enduring visual innocence – from the Apollo capsule, earth’s hazy blue nimbus still looks like a halo.
Full Moon: The Apollo and Gemini Photographs, Atlas Gallery, 49 Dorset Street, London W1, from 28 November to 14 February 2009
By Sarah Frater