From violent protests in Egypt and smugglers tunnels in Gaza to The Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy and the “Black Marble” Earth photographed at night from space, TIME presents the best images of the week.
The startling majesty – and deceptive complexity – of Michael Benson’s space art can be traced back through a process he dubs “true color.” A multimedia artist, Benson is a man utterly fascinated with outer space (he points to 2001: A Space Odyssey as an inspiration for his interstellar works — works that so impressed 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke that the sci-fi titan agreed to write the foreword to one of Benson’s books), and he has fixed his talents on creating visions that break free of the confines of Earth, enabling viewers to behold the unseen wonders of the universe.
To encounter a Benson landscape is to be in awe of not only how he sees the universe, but also the ways in which he composes the never-ending celestial ballet. From the spidery volcanic fractures that scar the surface of Venus to the time-lapse flight path of a stray asteroid, the dizzying close-ups of the swirling “red spot” of Jupiter, the x-ray-filtered view of the sun’s surface and the rippling red dunes of Mars, Benson is a visual stylist with a gift for framing and focus. Apart from cutting-edge high-definition renderings of our solar system’s most familiar objects, he also routinely converts extra-terrestrial terrain into thrilling, abstract landscapes that seem positioned somewhere between the scientific and the avant-garde.
Some of his greatest achievements skew towards the hyper realistic; I have been following Benson’s work for years and still the image I remember most is a massive, intricately-detailed view of the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons (slide 13 in the gallery above). Looming large in a print that renders the Io surface in a yellow-brownish hue, delineating the moon’s different terrains, Benson’s color scheme accentuates the dark volcanic calderas that dot the satellite’s surface. The final result is sharp, meticulous and magnificent. At first glimpse it’s a simple planetary object, but the closer your eye scans the terrain, the more you realize that Benson has somehow taken this imagery captured 400 million miles away and given us a front-row seat to consider the turbulent topography of this alien orb. Benson’s visions demand more than a single look; the longer one spends with his vast landscapes, considering the scale and scope, the more they facilitate a state of meditation.
Behind every one of these images, however, lies an intricate and involved photo editing process (watch the video of Benson’s method above). Benson typically begins each work by filtering through hundreds or thousands of raw images from space, made available to the public by NASA and the European Space Agency – photographs that have been taken by unmanned space probes flying throughout the solar system, rovers on Mars or humans aboard the International Space Station. Many of these photos come back to Earth as black and white composites, or as images created with only a few active color filters. Benson then sorts through the images in a hunt for something surprising, revealing or noteworthy. Once he’s found a subject of interest, he starts stitching together individual snapshots to create larger landscapes, and filtering these landscapes through his own color corrections to create a spectrum that approximates how these interstellar vistas would appear to the human eye.
In his latest published photo collection Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, now available from Abrams, Benson details the fine points of his processing techniques:
“The process of creating full-color images from black-and-white raw frames—and mosaic composites in which many such images are stitched together—can be quite complicated,” Benson writes. “In order for a full-color image to be created, the spacecraft needs to have taken at minimum two, but preferably three, individual photographs of a given subject, with each exposed through a different filter… ideally, those filters are red, green, and blue, in which case a composite color image can usually be created without too much trouble. But in practice, such spacecraft as the Cassini Orbiter or the Mars Exploration Rovers … have many different filters, which they use to record wavelengths of light well outside of the relatively narrow red, green and blue (RGB) zone of the electromagnetic spectrum that human eyes can see.”
Benson goes on to explain that he will often start working with images that are missing an essential filter — that ultraviolet and infrared filters have been used instead of color filters, meaning the composite image is lacking necessary information.
It is here where Benson has carved out an area of expertise, filling in that missing image information to add shape, scale and color to the planetary bodies he hopes to explore. The resulting visuals, as you can see above, are pristine and powerful glimpses of the furthest reaches of our solar system (and, in some of Benson’s other works, the very edges of the universe). With the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August, and its subsequent photographs of what appears to be Martian riverbeds, the world was once again reminded of the power of a single image transmitted back to Earth across millions of miles of open space. It’s a dizzying thing, to behold an alien world, and scanning through the portfolio of Michael Benson — a true “space odyssey” — is to experience this rush of discovery again and again.
Michael Benson’s new book Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, is now available from Abrams. Also featured above are images from Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (Abrams, 2008). Images from Planetfall will be on display at New York’s Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in December 2012. To see more of Benson’s work, visit his web site.
Steven James Snyder is an Assistant Managing Editor at TIME.com.
In a world made small and accessible by technology, it is easy to forget the magnitude of nature’s infinite complexity. But sometimes technology reminds us, such as when trawling planet Earth on Google’s Satellite View, zooming across landscapes partitioned by natural and unnatural boundaries.
While searching Google Earth, Paul Bourke, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia, discovered an amazing sightthe patterns of the Earth seemed to form a delicate geometric pattern when viewed from the sky. Not only delicate, but almost perfect. Bourke was captivated by the geographylacy tracks of rivers and mountain ranges stretching across the Earth in unison as if digitally cloned.
Fractals are recognized as patterns of self-similarity over varying degrees of scale. seo marketing . There are both mathematical fractals as well as natural fractalsthe former are idealized and found across a range of scales, while the latter generally only exist across a smaller scale range.
Bourke explains that fractals are found in all parts of life, from the brain sciences and astrophysics to geographic formations and riverbeds. “Fractal and chaotic processes are the norm, not the exception.”
“I always knew these amazing natural patterns would be there,” he said. “They are literally everywhereit’s just a matter of finding them.”
And find them he did. Bourke, an authority on fractals and visualizations, showcases more than 40 different fractals he’s uncovered while zooming through the satellite views of 25 countries. Through his website, he encourages users to submit examples they’ve found in their own browsing, and provides KMZ coordinate files for each image, allowing users to visit the exact views of the fractal features. Bourke’s collection realizes the power enabled by the open-ended tools of modern technology and applies them to a practical and popular aesthetic end.
To see more natural fractal patterns, visit Bourke’s website.
Later this year, a communications satellite called the EchoStar XVI will be launched from Kazakhstan. The 14,500 lb. spacecraft is predicted to work for about 15 years. It will then continue to float 19,000 miles above Earth’s sea level, in a geostationary orbit that is so stable that the satellite will be there as long as there’s an Earth.
Hundreds of these dead satellites are orbiting us already, comprising what is essentially a floating junkyard that will endure well past human extinction, possibly for four billion years, when the earth is swallowed by its dying sun. What makes EchoStar XVI unique is not the unfathomable depths of time it will vault, but the fact that it will carry an art project.
Artist Trevor Paglen is fascinated by the notion that these spacecraft will be the most enduring relics of human civilization. When invited by the public art organization Creative Time to make a project about space, he proposed to somehow send up images with a satellite, and that those images would be “a story about what happened to the people who build the great ring of dead machines around Earth.” The project, The Last Pictures, rolls out in New York next week, ending a five-year journey.
Though Paglen admits that it’s unlikely that the images will ever actually be discovered by yet-unknown future aliens, he took seriously the science that would make it even remotely possible. At an artist’s residency at MIT, he worked with scientists who developed a hyper-archival, gold-plated disc, on which pictures are micro-etched. He also took seriously the question of which images should be sent up, assembling a research team and interviewing anthropologists, artists and scientists.
In the end, the EchoStar XVI will launch, bearing 100 images into the depths of time. What are they? “The images are not meant to be a grand representation of ‘mankind’ or a portrait of humanity. Instead they are a montage about a civilization that finds itself in a moment of deep uncertainty about its own future,” says Paglen.
Sourced from governmental agencies, libraries and artists (including Paglen’s own work), many of the 100 undated pictures circle around the topics of science, technology and the environment. Many suggest that the miraculous scientific and technological advances mankind has achieved—the very ones that enabled us to launch a satellite that will orbit for millennia—are the means to our end.
Other images seem spectacularly random: One picture shows gloved hands holding Leon Trotsky’s brain, while “A Study in Perspective” by Ai Wei Wei shows the dissident artist flipping the Eiffel Tower the bird. Extended captions to many of these images are available to us in a catalogue, but one wonders how the future aliens would make any sense of them. The inscrutability of these images happens to also be part of the point.
The sometimes oblique images chosen for The Last Pictures were partly inspired by the mysterious visual remnants of ancient civilizations, like the cave paintings in Lascaux, and the moai, for which Easter Island is famous. Those artifacts have never entirely yielded their meaning, and yet they were made relatively recently, in terms of the “deep time” of space. “The notion that the message could actually mean anything at all seems ridiculous…but the probability of people on Earth thinking about it here and now is guaranteed,” writes Paglen in the book that accompanies the project.
And it’s true. It seems inherently valuable, if desperately sad, for us to visualize a time when we won’t exist. The processes, with which we are making ourselves extinct, are still ongoing, after all.
The first public event for The Last Pictures, which takes place today, will feature a reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, as well as a conversation between Paglen and the famed filmmaker Werner Herzog, whose recent Cave of Forgotten Dreams was about the caves of Lascaux. The two will discuss cultural artifacts, civilization and space exploration. The event is New York City’s Bryant Park—fittingly, under the stars.
Joanna Lehan is assistant curator at the International Center of Photography, and was editor of Paglen’s book, Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, which you can see here on Lightbox.
The Last Pictures is published by Creative Time Books and the University of California Press.
Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Taking pictures on another world has never been just point and click. For decades, unmanned probes from Earth have been venturing to distant planets, moons and other bodies—and for just as many decades, the images they have sent home have been composed and transmitted in a decidedly painstaking way. That is especially so in the case of the 360-degree panorama NASA is now releasing of the Curiosity rover’s landing site in Mars’s Gale Crater.
Even on Earth, you have to be selective when you photograph a landscape. After all, no matter how glorious your picture of one part of the Grand Canyon is, it by definition leaves out countless other, equally glorious parts. The only way to capture the whole sweep of the place is to take many small images and bit by bit, piece them all together. That’s hard enough when the camera is in your hand. Now imagine doing it when all of your hardware is 154 million miles away and the data has to be streamed back you in a comparative trickle that, even moving at light speed, takes 17 minutes to get here.
(See more: Inside Look at the Mars Curiosity Rover)
But NASA did just that to produce its full pirouette picture of the Marscape that surrounds Curiosity. The panorama was built from 30 smaller images shot by the rover’s Navcams—or navigation cameras—on Aug. 18 and Aug. 7. Each picture has a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 1,024 pixels, and all of them have been combined in such a way that the seams connecting them disappear. The lighter colored strip at the top right of the image is the rim of Gale Crater—chosen as the landing site because it was once a deep sea. Also visible is the peak of nearby Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 mi. (5.5 km) into the rust-red sky. The portions of the picture in the Martian sky that appear gray are parts of the mosaic that have not yet been added, but will be the next time NASA updates the image.
As their name implies, the Navcams are used mostly for reconnaissance purposes—scouting out where the rover will drive and mapping the best route to get there. They were thus not designed with beauty in mind—and that means they shoot only in black and white. The cameras mounted atop Curiosity’s mast capture the full range of desert-like colors that define the brutally beautiful Gale Crater environment. The entire suite of on-board cameras will have a lot of work to do in the two years ahead—and every picture they take will be one worth saving. Once the rover starts rolling, after all, it will never be staying in any one place for long.
(Related: Window on Infinity: Pictures from Space)
Over the course of photographing for what would become his 2010 monograph Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, Trevor Paglen spent years tracking the orbit of American military spacecraft and documenting their ghostly trails across the night sky. The resulting images (which also appeared in Aperture # 191) were as much about photography itself—exploring the power and the limits of photographic knowledge—as they were meditations on the relationship between humankind and the infinite. In a fascinating evolution of this work, Paglen is now behind The Last Pictures, a project that will attach a record of human photographic images onto a satellite that will be sent into orbit in September 2012. Paglen spent five years interviewing scientists, artists, anthropologists, and philosophers to decide what images should compose this photo-historical record, and then worked with materials scientists at MIT to inscribe the 100 images he chose onto an “ultra-archival” silicon disc (not unlike the Pioneer Plaques and the Voyager Golden Record) that will be attached to EchoStar XVI. This satellite will function as a regular television satellite for the next fifteen years before powering down, entering a “graveyard orbit,” and remaining for billions of years as a photographic relic of modern human civilization for future civilizations and lifeforms to discover. And perhaps it will even show up in one of Paglen’s future photographs.
Here on earth in the year 2012, you can catch Paglen’s lecture tour (beginning September in New York) featuring philosophers and scientists discussing the project. Later this year, Creative Time will publish a book of the images, accompanied by short texts by those who contributed to the project. For more on Paglen and his work, visit his website.
Most of us weren’t drifting over Manhattan at an altitude of 243 mi. (390 km) on March 11 at 8:09 AM, but Anatoly Ivanishin and the other crewmembers of the International Space Station were. Ivanishin had a camera with a 1,200 mm lens in his hand and he snapped this image of what he saw below. It was a Sunday morning, so the streets were quiet—though that kind of detail would not have been discernible from orbit. The skies were clear, however, and that was what allowed such a detailed, almost pointillist portrait to be captured. The picture is taken with north at the left, and as you get your bearings, other landmarks become clear. Central Park is the long grassy rectangle in the middle of Manhattan. The waterway at the bottom is, of course, the Hudson River, with Hoboken and the other towns of eastern New Jersey lining the shore. The LaGuardia Airport runways are visible at the top of the image near the left side.
Most poignant—if least conspicuous—are the sawtooth shadows extending from the southwest edge of Manhattan into the Hudson. The longest tooth of them all is cast by the new World Trade tower, which on April 30, the same day NASA released the image to TIME, once again became the tallest building in New York. The Empire State Building, which regained the crown on Sept. 11, 2001, now trails the new building—which stands at 1,271 ft. (387 m)—by 21 ft. (6.4 m). The World Trade tower will get much taller (and the shadow will get much longer) still, when it finally tops out at 1,776 ft. (541 m) sometime next year. The decade-old wound in lower Manhattan has not completely closed, but it’s close—and even from space, that healing shows.
Correction: an earlier version of this post identified the astronaut who took this photograph as Don Pettit.