Art makes stars out of astronomers


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The Independent Culture

Stretching backwards, his limbs at all  angles and his face bathed in concentrated sunlight, Detrick Branston is testing  which filter to use for safely looking at  the sun during the annular eclipse in the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, earlier this year. 

I photographed him during the month’s residency at NOAO (National Optical Astronomy Observatory). I was there as the first part of a project I am sharing with Jane Grisewood to make sense  of astronomy and astronomers through the lens  of contemporary art. The second part will be to  go to the Cerro Tololo Observatory in the foothills of the Andes in the Atacama Desert, Chile, in three weeks’ time.

I photographed the astronomers at work and generally they were rooted both in their offices and in the observatories, looking at a computer screen, rather than through the lens of a telescope, or, as here, protecting their eyes from the blinding glare of direct, magnified, sunlight. All were dedicated  to ideals of education and research, but most of  all to a vision of a still mysterious universe, which challenged them to understand it a little better,  on a mountain top, on the Tohono O’odham Native American reservation.

A limited-edition artist’s book made from some  of the material gathered won the Birgit Skiold  Award for Excellence. For more information,  email