The Celestials

During the Covid-19 global pandemic and ensuing lockdown, satellite images released by NASA and the European Space Agency showed a dramatic drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions; the skies were clearer, bluer, the earth was breathing again. These cyanotypes were made using negatives of pictures taken from plane windows during work expeditions over the preceding years, partly because they had immediately become an estranged perspective and partly because the spectre of the climate crisis was dominating much of the media coverage.

The idea that we can move beyond our physical world if we utilise our will, our intuition, imagination and individual sense of self, expounded upon so convincingly by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay, ‘The Transcendalist’ (1843) was an influence on this work. There is also an obvious reference to Alfred Stieglitz and his innovative photographs of clouds, Equivalents (1925 – 1934). Although Steiglitz claimed he was only interested in “clouds for themselves,” he also argued that his images could reflect his own emotionality, he saw a beauty and otherworldly repose in the clouds that transcended the immediate.

The Prussian blue of the cyanotypes, a colour that is not found in nature, but is brought about by a chemical reaction that produces ferric ferrocyanide, evoke an otherworldly, dreamlike intensity that is augmented is several cases by layering multiple negatives. This degree of abstraction speaks of the essence of what many people went through during the coronavirus lockdown: our altered states and perspectives, collective uncertainty and deepening awareness of the interconnectedness between us and the natural world.

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