Text by Christian Rattemeyer
Text originally published in Fantom Photographic Quarterly, Issue 03, Spring 2010
The library and archives of New York University are not only a treasure trove for a great number of documents that can invoke times past both distant and nearâ€”their Downtown Collection is an invaluable source for the documentation of the 1980s New York Underground sceneâ€”but also can provide inspiration for artists to create new works from old. New York-based artist Lisa Oppenheim was drawn to a holding of glass-plate negatives of 19th century photographs of the moon, which were taken by John William Draper and his son Henry. In 1840, Draper took the first ever image of the moon and over the next twenty years continued to record and study the heavenly body, while advancing the emulsive technology of photography (Draper was a professor for chemistry at New York University). These early examples of photographs of celestial objects reveal the moon as a protagonist with different faces, cratered and luminous, and ever changing across its path and phases. To photograph the moon in the nineteenth century not only had the obvious advantage of choosing an object of relative stillness required for the long exposure times of early photography but also served the desire to reveal something invisible to the human eye through technological means, a magic scientific and mystical, aesthetic and esoteric.