Wednesday, 18 November 2009

James Nasmyth & August Strindberg

James Nasmyth, the Scottish inventor and engineer, was obsessed with all things lunar. He built his own telescope to view the moon, and, in order to illustrate the book The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (1885), he created these amazing images. Unfortunately, photography couldn't itself actually record it's surface when he made these images, so Nasmyth instead created wonderful plaster models based upon his observations through his telescope and photographed them in the moon's place. A crater on the moon is named after him.


Meanwhile in 1893, August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright, during a bout of writers block and existential crisis, turned to photography. Attempting to photographically capture the night sky in works he called celesteographs, instead of placing his film in a camera, he simply left the film to be exposed to the night on windowsills, on the ground, and sometimes bathed in developer (Strindberg apparently distrusted the distortion of lenses, and whilst he had made a few rudimentary pinhole cameras, by now had decided to abandon the camera altogether). Although believing the results to be images of stars and constellations, in reality, he had recorded the marks of dust and chemical stains accrued during exposure and the inexact development of late 19th century photographic technique. Nonetheless, the resultant images retain a connection to the original idea, to the 'witnessing' of an event, a measure of time depicted in alchemical transformation.

I think I like this divergence from the scientific that both these non-artist makers employed. There's something in the way that the forms of both abandoned the limitations that science and technology afforded them at the time (whether deliberate or not), and moved towards a notional description of place that is perhaps 'truer' than the one that could, in reality, have been achieved through more 'correct' means.


  1. Ha! Just googled James Nasmyth and of course your blog is one of the first things to come up. Nice.

  2. Cheers Hallgerdur. That's great. He made some extraordinary images I think. The book 'The moon: considered as a planet, a world, and a satellite' is pretty interesting and definitely worth a look.