MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – Skinner will present “The Beauty of Space,” the first auction in the United States to focus solely on vintage photographs produced from 1961 to 1972 by NASA, on Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. Eastern time. The 445-lot single-owner collection showcases both iconic and rare gelatin silver and chromogenic prints providing an extraordinary photographic journey to the moon and back as seen through the eyes of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Absentee and Internet bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.
While the astronaut’s primary goal was to record their activities, they were inspired by what they witnessed, creating images that transcend documentation, allowing viewers to share in the magic and excitement of space travel. The photographs are now appreciated for their artistic value as well as their historical and scientific significance. The images are the artistic artifacts produced by these space explorers turned photographers—the treasures they brought back along with samples of the lunar surface.
The auction, organized by mission, is conceived as a “space and lunar” photographic journal of the astronauts: from Alan Shepard, the first American in space in May 1961; to Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon in December 1972. Included are astronaut portraits and training exercises in addition to images of remarkable spacewalks and lunar excursions, and views of the Earth and moon. Of particular note are large-format prints produced by NASA for presentation and fascinating original Apollo panoramic mosaics used by scientists.
On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first human to photograph the Earth from space as he orbited the planet on board his Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft. Every astronaut from then on would carry a camera into space.
NASA’s Photographic Division was founded in close partnership with Kodak and Hasselblad, and cameras and film were adapted for use in the harsh conditions of space. After each mission, NASA selected a limited number of the astronauts’ photographs for release to the public. The rest were accessible only to accredited researchers in the archives of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, from which most of this collection is sourced.
Photography proved to be a vital tool in reaching and exploring the moon, but NASA also realized the image-building value of photographs in the space program, which generated tremendous public interest. Made in 1965 from Gemini 4, images like Jim McDivitt’s stunning color photographs of his partner Ed White floating freely above the Earth represented the first pictures of man in space. Few sights in human history have been as exhilarating as the first Earthrise over the lunar horizon captured from Apollo 8 in 1968. Seven months later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent only 150 minutes on the moon, watched live on television by half a billion people, but brought back to Earth on Apollo 11 astonishing images seen by many more.
Six manned Apollo missions to the lunar surface from Apollo 11 in July 1969 to Apollo 17 in December 1972 represented the pinnacle of human exploration. The astronauts observed a pristine, alien world that was airless, silent and void. In this disorienting and dangerous environment, they explored lunar canyons and towering mountains on foot and via rover. With their cameras, the astronauts conveyed to the rest of humanity the surreal beauty and the profundity of their experience. Changing the way we see ourselves and our place in the universe, their photographs created a new visual vocabulary and are now part of our collective memory.
Acquired from former NASA scientists and employees, the photographs on offer were brought together by a private collector of 20th-century avant-garde art. His fascination for explorers and adventurers began with the prophetic novels of Jules Verne, leading him to the pioneering astronauts who voyaged to the final frontier: Space.
Many of the photographs bear original NASA marks, captions, and identifying numbers, as well as Kodak paper watermarks, and will be offered with estimates ranging from $300 – $9,000.
Auction highlights include, but are not limited to:
The original seven Project Mercury astronauts, Langley Air Force Base, July 1960 (Estimate $400-600)
The Sun illuminating the Earth, by John Glenn, first American in orbit, Mercury-Atlas 6, 20 February 1962
The first full-color photograph of Earth taken in November 1967 by the robotic ATS 3 spacecraft
The very first photograph taken on the surface of another world, by Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, 20 July 1969
Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon with reflection of Neil Armstrong and the LM “Eagle,” 20 July 1969
The footprint on the moon, by Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, 20 July 1969
Lunar Module “Eagle” and Earthrise, by Michael Collins, Apollo 11, July 1969
David Scott and the lunar mountains of Hadley-Apennine, by James Irwin, Apollo 15, August 1971
Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon, by Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17, December 1972