Naomi Adam

Shooting Stars: ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year.’

Cover Image: ‘Empyreal,’ Paul Wilson.

Forget finger cramp sharpening pencils for Colour Me Calm, or straining your pelvis partway through the downward-facing dog. A fast-track to hazard (and entry fee) – free mindfulness is to be found on the second floor of the World Museum, Liverpool, courtesy of their ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ exhibition.

A tuning fork struck upon a star: Paul Mosher’s ‘Holding Due North.’

Organised annually by the Royal Greenwich Observatory in affiliation with the BBC’s Sky at Night magazine, the competition this year attracted a record-breaking pool of entries: 4,200+ snaps showcasing our solar system. Whittled down from these are the hundred (literally) stellar shots which form the collection, comprised of shortlisted and winning photographs in each of the ten specialised categories (Galaxies, People and the Planet, Nebulae etc.), ranged in constellation-like clusters round the gallery’s walls. The soothing collection includes everything from the cosmos captured above Preston, Britain, to the skies over the Breidmerkurjokull glacial tongue in Iceland, largely by night (e. g. ‘Kynance Cove by Night,’ Ainsley Bennett), yet also by day, as with ‘Daytime Moon’ by Helen Schofield. They manage to eclipse in beauty even the best of desktop backgrounds. Those in the kids’ category, more serendipity than skill, are nonetheless equally impressive. Meanwhile, to astronomy nerds and neophytes alike, it’s clear this exhibition is timely; not only is it the tenth year of the contest, it’s also fifty years since a certain ‘small step’ onto the moon.

Stars in their i(Phones)s: Entrants in the youth category used more rudimentary equipment, but still got spectacular results.

‘Moonset Eclipse over Beijing,’ courtesy of Xiuquan Zhang.

Inside, lighting levels are kept low, foregrounding the images backlit on their three-dimensional digital canvases. It’s permeated by a hushed aura of reverence, library- or church-style; indeed, there is something otherworldly about the out-of-this-world images. The iridescent lights of the Aurora Borealis flare green and pink against a backdrop of velveteen New Zealand sky in Paul Wilson’s ‘Empyreal;’ solar and lunar coronas wreath spectrally their respective silhouetted planets. (France’s sun ‘Kings’ entry, especially, attracts many visitors into its orbit.)

Entrants hail this year from 91 different nations (that’s around half of our planet’s total), with this diversity a reminder of award-winning landscape photographer Charlie Waite’s famous dictum. ‘A landscape image cuts across all political and national boundaries, it transcends the constraints of language and culture.’ Based on the nationalities of those writing in the visitors’ book, this universality extends to skyscapes, too.

Et voila, les trois rois. ‘Sun King, Little King, and God of War,’ by Nicolas Lefaudeux.

Clearly, the shots aren’t the product of a shotgun approach. Quotations and informational ‘blurbs’ accompany each picture, and reveal one to be a 42 image panorama, another as a triumph of 10, 000 stacked images, yet another as the photographical fruits of ‘travelling for 24 hours without sleeping.’ Labours of love and lost shut-eye, then.

Guardians of the Galaxy: In Carlos F. Turienzo’s image- ‘Guardians of Tre Cime’- the Milky Way presides over the Dolomites and a single, solitary homestead.

Aside from being visually stunning, the photographs are also remarkably humbling. As the ‘People and Space’ plaque so aptly puts it, they function to ‘connect us to the wider Universe and remind us that we are all part of one cosmos,’ alongside ‘putting our troubles into perspective.’ That’s why the atmosphere fostered is so calming, as well as inclusive. My Very Earthly Worries Just Seem Useless Now…

Should you know nada about Nasa, or be unable to differentiate your D.S.L.R. from your H.D.R., never fear. Sure, text below each photograph is tailored to both photography fanatics (detailing equipment used, exposure and any post-processing) as well as astro-enthusiasts. Yet there’s also low-level information aimed at the uninitiated, the Timons of this world who view the stars as so many ‘fireflies.’ (Actually, as Pumbaa has taught us, they are really ‘balls of gas, burning billions of miles away.’)

Meanwhile, I would suggest a tie-in mindfulness colouring book to the Royal Observatory Greenwich, just to bolster revenues. Space themed, obviously. Pages of colourable cosmic clusters, coronas and constellations. My Very Earthly Worries Just Seem Useless Now?

The ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ exhibition continues until 1 September. Free entry (donations welcomed).
William Brown Street, Liverpool. L3 8EN. 0151 478 4393.
See also rmg.co.uk/astrophoto. [#astrophoto.]

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