Mesmerizing Shots of Distant Galaxies and Aurorae Top the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest
“Andromeda Galaxy at Arm’s Length?” © Nicolas Lefaudeux (France), galaxies winner and overall winner. “Have you ever dreamt of touching a galaxy? This version of the Andromeda Galaxy seems to be at arm’s length among clouds of stars. Unfortunately, this is just an illusion, as the galaxy is still 2 million light-years away. In order to obtain the tilt-shift effect, the photographer 3D-printed a part to hold the camera at an angle at the focus of the telescope. The blur created by the defocus at the edges of the sensor gives this illusion of closeness to Andromeda.”
The 2020 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest gathers a trove of sublime shots capturing otherwise unseen phenomena and distant fixtures of outer space. With more than 5,000 entries from six continents, the 12th annual competition includes Nicolas Lefaudeux’s photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy two million light-years away, one by Rafael Schmall that frames the lit trails of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, and another of the Aurora Borealis reflecting on the ice by Kristina Makeeva (previously).
Starting October 23, 2020, the top photographs will be on display at the National Maritime Museum. Until then, pick up a copy of this year’s book that collects all 140 winning and shortlisted shots, and explore some of Colossal’s favorites below.
“Iceland “© Kristina Makeeva (Russia) aurorae highly commended. “Winters in Iceland require some training in terms of wind protection equipment. Iceland is a country with very strong winds, so a stable tripod is required to shoot the aurora. Many astrophotographers wait in a certain place for several hours to capture the Aurora Borealis. The photographer was lucky in this instance as she waited near Diamond Beach where the reflection of the aurora on the ice was beautiful.”
“The Prison of Technology” © Rafael Schmall (Hungary), people and space winner. “The star in the centre of the image is the Albireo double star, surrounded by the trails of moving satellites. How many more might there be by the time we reach next year’s competition? There could be thousands of moving dots in the sky. In order to create astrophotos, photographers have to carefully plan where to place the telescope, and this will be more difficult in the future with more satellites in the way.”
“Light Bridge in the Sky” © Xiuquan Zhang (China), aged 12, young competition highly commended. “The photographer visited Iceland with his mother in 2019. The sky there is wonderful every night. The photographer had never seen such a scene before! The aurora is magical, as you can see in this photo.”
“Cosmic Inferno” © Peter Ward (Australia), stars and nebulae winner. “NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in southern skies but is shown here without any stars. The software reveals just the nebula, which has been mapped into a false color palette. The scene takes on the look of a celestial fire-maelstrom. The image is intended to reflect media images taken in Australia during 2019 and 2020, where massive bushfires caused the destruction of native forests and have claimed over 12 million acres of land. It shows nature can act on vast scales and serves as a stark warning that our planet needs nurturing.”
“Desert Magic” © Stefan Leibermann (Germany), skyscapes runner up. “The photographer took this image during a trip through Jordan. He stayed for three days in the desert at Wadi Rum. During the night, the photographer tried to capture the amazing starry sky over the desert. He used a star tracker device to capture the sky. The photographer found this red dune as a foreground and captured the imposing Milky Way centre in the sky.”
“Observe the Heart of the Galaxy” © Tian Li (China), people and space runner up. “This image depicts the photographer climbing the radio telescope and Mingantu solar radio telescope array. First, the photographer tested and moved his camera so that the M8 and M20 nebulae would appear right next to the telescope. After taking the foreground image, he moved his camera a little bit but still pointing at the same location in the sky, and captured the background with an equatorial mount.”
“Tycho Crater Region with Colours” © Alain Paillou (France), our moon winner. “The Tycho crater is one of the most famous craters on the Moon. This huge impact has left very impressive scars on the Moon’s surface. With the colours of the soils, Tycho is even more impressive. This picture combines one session with a black-and-white camera, to capture the details and sharpness, and one session with a colour camera, to capture the colours of the soils. These colours come mainly from metallic oxides in small balls of glass and can give useful information about the Moon’s geology and history. The blue shows a high titanium oxide concentration and the red shows high iron oxide concentration. This picture reveals the incredible beauty and complexity of our natural satellite.”
“The Green Lady” © Nicholas Roemmelt (Germany), aurorae winner. “The photographer had heard a lot of stories about the ‘lady in green’. Although he has had the chance to photograph the Northern Lights many times, he had never seen the ‘green lady’ before. On a journey to Norway, she unexpectedly appeared with her magical green clothes making the whole sky burn with green, blue, and pink colours.”
“The Dolphin Jumping out of an Ocean of Gas” © Connor Matherne (USA), stars and nebulae runner up. “This target is officially known as Sh2-308, but the photographer has always enjoyed calling it the Dolphin Nebula. It is a bubble of gas being shed by the bright blue star in the centre of the image as it enters its pre-supernova phase. The red star to the right could possibly be influencing the shape too and might be responsible for the bill of the dolphin. While it won’t explode in our lifetimes, seeing the warning signs are quite neat. It never hurts to say that the warning signs are the most beautiful part of this particular target!”
Day, F. Holland, [F.H. Day and Maynard White in sailor suits, portrait], 1911, cyanotype. (Photo: The Louise Imogen Guiney Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [Public domain])
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, My Modern Met may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.
It was developed in 1842 by English astronomer Sir John Herschel, who was looking for a way to make copies of his notes. Cyanotypes offered a simple way to replicate drafts and diagrams. And since color photography did not yet exist, they provided a tinge of color to otherwise black and white images. Cyanotypes are still used today as an alternative printing medium; however, during the 20th century, as photography and technology advanced, the technique became somewhat obsolete. It reverted to primarily being used for replicating architectural diagrams and design notes—aka blueprints.
Newspaper Row, New York, c. 1900, cyanotype. (Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection [Public domain])
Early Adopters and Contemporary Artists Using the Cyanotype Process
While the cyanotype process was most commonly used in making blueprints, artists and scientists have been drawn to the medium since its invention. One of the earliest uses of the process was by Anna Atkins, a botanist and friend of Herschel. Atkins made photogram prints by laying an object (rather than a negative) directly upon the sensitized surface. Her dried seaweed specimens produced stunning photograms worthy of display, but her motive was primarily to illustrate her book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Due to her work with cyanotype, Atkins is considered the first female photographer.
Cyanotype photogram of algae by Anna Atkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [Public domain])
Johnston, Frances Benjamin. [Children doing calisthenics while sitting at their desks in a classroom, 5th Division public schools, Washington, D.C.], c. 1899, cyanotype. (Photo: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [Public domain])
The Cyanotype Process
Compared to some other photographic processes, the cyanotype process (aka the blueprint process) is chemically simple. Potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate solutions are combined to make an iron-rich sensitizer solution. The solution is then brushed evenly over paper, fabric, or other porous surfaces. The sensitizer chemicals react to light when exposed, so this coating should take place in dim light.
Dry coated sheets are placed in UV light such as sunlight, which is why cyanotypes are sometimes referred to as sun prints. The opaque areas of a negative block the light while other areas are exposed. A chemical reaction of the iron compounds takes place and the exposed paper appears yellowish or bronze. The final step is a simple water rinse, which washes away the unexposed sensitizer. Under the yellow will be a brilliant blue derived from oxidized iron. The blue darkens as the print dries to reveal the final product.
Handy, Levin C. Construction of the Library of Congress, S.W. court, Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 1891, cyanotype. (Photo: Panoramic Photographs, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [Public domain])
What is Prussian Blue?
The exposed sections of cyanotype prints turn a special color known as Prussian blue. During the final rinse, these pigments remain because Prussian blue does not dissolve in water. Produced by a chemical reaction developed in the early 18th century, Prussian blue became a coveted pigment among painters in Europe and Japan (including Hokusai). To show off their wealth, families would also have household rooms painted in the deep hue.
An example of Prussian blue pigment usage. Hokusai, Katsushika. The Great Wave of Kangawa, first edition c. 1826-1833, reprint by Adachi from the Shōwa period. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [Public domain])
Here are some examples of cyanotypes created in the early 20th century.
New York from Brooklyn, c. 1901, cyanotype. (Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection [Public domain])
[Whirl Pool R]apids, Niagara], c. 1900, cyanotype. (Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection [Public domain])
Jackson, William Henry. Old Mill at Bartlett's Carry, Round Lake, Adirondack Mountains, c. 1902, cyanotype. (Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection [Public domain])
DIY Cyanotype Photography
Cyanotypes are easy, fun, and relatively affordable to attempt. For more experienced photographers or artists, you can buy and mix chemicals to coat different surfaces with sensitizer. (See instructions here and here.) There are also cyanotype kits available for families or those looking for a quicker process. (Ready-made sensitized paper can also be bought separately from art suppliers.)
For those who are more used to a digital approach and don't have actually film negatives, you can use Photoshop (or another photo editing program) to invert a digital black and white photo into a negative. Then, you can print your inverted photo onto transparency film (making it just like a film negative).
Next, all you'll really need is sunlight to expose your sensitized paper and water to wash away the unexposed sensitizer.
You can try making cyanotypes using pre-made light-sensitive paper or cyanotype kits.
TexturesFactory | $47.50
“Andromeda Galaxy at Arm's Length?” by Nicolas Lefaudeux (France). Overall Winner and Galaxies, Winner.
Have you ever dreamt of touching a galaxy? This version of the Andromeda Galaxy seems to be at arm’s length among clouds of stars. Unfortunately, this is just an illusion, as the galaxy is still 2 million light-years away. In order to obtain the tilt-shift effect, the photographer 3D-printed a part to hold the camera at an angle at the focus of the telescope. The blur created by the defocus at the edges of the sensor gives this illusion of closeness to Andromeda.
Sky-Watcher Black Diamond 100 mm apochromatic refractor telescope at f/9, iOptron iEQ30 mount, Sony ILCE-7S camera (modified), ISO 2000, 2 hours 30 minutes total exposure.
Now in its 12th year, the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition continues to impress. With over 5,000 entries from astrophotographers around the world, the level of competition was high. But in the end, French photographer Nicolas Lefaudeux took the home top prize for photographing our neighboring galaxy.
His incredible photo of the Andromeda Galaxy is a creative look at the galaxy that's closest to our own. The tilt-shift effect makes it look as though it's within reach when, in reality, it's actually two million light-years away. “To most of us, our closest neighboring galaxy Andromeda can also feel so distanced and out of reach,” said competition judge Ed Robinson. “Yet to create a photograph that gives us the impression that it is just within our physical reach is truly magical, and somewhat appropriate as we adjust after such socially distanced times.”
For his efforts, Lefaudeux was named 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year and will have his work showcased at the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. Running from October 23, the exhibition will also feature all of the exceptional runners-up and highly commended images.
In fact, all of the winning images are a delight for the eyes. Whether using a telescope to capture far off celestial bodies or a regular camera to document colorful phenomena like the Northern Lights, each photographer uses their equipment and skills to bring outer space closer to home. And with entries pouring in from six continents, the contest is a true representation of global astrophotography talent.
See more winning entries from the 2020 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest.
“The Dolphin Jumping out of an Ocean of Gas” by Connor Matherne (USA). Stars & Nebulae, Runner-up.
This target is officially known as Sh2-308, but the photographer has always enjoyed calling it the Dolphin Nebula. It is a bubble of gas being shed by the bright blue star in the center of the image as it enters its pre-supernova phase. The red star to the right could possibly be influencing the shape too and might be responsible for the bill of the dolphin. While it won’t explode in our lifetimes, seeing the warning signs are quite neat. It never hurts to say that the warning signs are the most beautiful part of this particular target!
Takahashi TOA-150B telescope at f/7.3, Astro-Physics 1600 mount, FLI ML16200 camera, RGB-Ha-OIII composite, 33 hours total exposure.
“Painting the Sky” by Thomas Kast (Germany). Skyscapes, Winner.
The photographer was searching for clear skies in Finnish Lapland to capture the beauty of a polar night and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw what was waiting behind the clouds. Polar stratospheric clouds are something the photographer has been searching for many years and had seen only in photographs until that day. He took his camera onto a frozen river to get a good view and started to take photos. The clouds slowly changed their shape and colors. It was like watching someone painting, especially when the Sun was lower – it started to get a darker orange and the pink shades became stronger.
Nikon D850 camera, 120 mm f/16 lens, ISO 64, 1/40-second exposure.
“Space Between US…” by Łukasz Sujka (Poland). Planets, Comets, and Asteroids, Winner.
This image shows the really close alignment of the Moon and Jupiter that happened on 31 October 2019. In the full resolution picture, you’ll see that there are three of Jupiter’s moons also visible. This small project is a big challenge that involves a lot of luck and good seeing conditions. To capture this phenomenon in such a big scale was quite demanding in data acquisition as Jupiter and the Moon traveled across the sky quite fast. It happened at altitude only 9 degrees above the horizon. I wanted to show the huge emptiness and the size of space, which is why there is a lot of ‘nothing’ between the two major parts of the image.
Sky-Watcher Newtonian 10″ telescope at f/4.8, Baader MPCC Coma Corrector filter, Sky-Watcher NEQ-6 mount, ZWO ASI178 MM-C camera, 300 x 10-millisecond exposures per channel.
“The Green Lady” by Nicholas Roemmelt (Germany). Aurorae, Winner.
The photographer had heard a lot of stories about the ‘lady in green’. Although he has had the chance to photograph the Northern Lights many times, he had never seen the ‘green lady’ before. On a journey to Norway, she unexpectedly appeared with her magical green clothes making the whole sky burn with green, blue, and pink colors.
Canon EOS R camera, 14 mm f/1.8 lens, ISO 6400, 4 x 1.6-second exposures.
“Waves” by Bence Toth (Hungary). Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer.
The image shows the central region of the California Nebula (NGC 1499). It tries to show the uncontrollable vast energy of nature, in a form which resembles the huge waves of a storm in the ocean. The RGB channels are used the create the colors of the stars, and all of the nebulosity is synthesized from the hydrogen-alpha and the SII channels. The color assignment of the narrowband channels is done in a way to create an image close to true color, but preserving the fine details and the depth provided by the narrowband filters.
Sky-Watcher Quattro 200P telescope at f/4, Sky-Watcher EQ6-R mount, ZWO ASI1600MM Pro camera, RGB-Ha-SII composite, 7 hours 50 minutes total exposure.
“HDR Partial Lunar Eclipse with Clouds” by Ethan Roberts (UK). Our Moon, Runner-up.
During the 2019 partial lunar eclipse, the photographer managed to capture this fantastic image of the Moon while a small cloud passed in front of it. You can see the Earth's shadow on the top right and its striking orange color caused by the Sun’s light passing through the atmosphere. This is a high dynamic range image, meaning both the darker, shadowed region is correctly exposed as well as the much brighter parts of the Moon. This processing technique also allows the clouds to be seen more clearly, giving the Moon a similar appearance to that of a solar corona.
Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ5 SynScan mount, Canon EOS 100D camera, 600 mm f/7 lens, ISO 800, composite of 5-second, 1-second, 1/10-second and 1/30-second exposures.
“Desert Magic” by Stefan Leibermann (Germany). Skyscapes, Runner-up.
The photographer took this image during a trip through Jordan. He stayed for three days in the desert at Wadi Rum. During the night, the photographer tried to capture the amazing starry sky over the desert. He used a star tracker device to capture the sky. The photographer found this red dune as a foreground and captured the imposing Milky Way center in the sky.
Sony ILCE 7M3 camera
Sky: 24 mm f/2.4 lens, ISO 1000, 272-second exposure
Foreground: 24 mm f/8 lens, ISO 800, 20-second exposure.
“Cosmic Inferno” by Peter Ward (Australia). Stars & Nebulae, Winner.
NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in southern skies, but is shown here without any stars. Software reveals just the nebula, which has been mapped into a false color palette. The scene takes on the look of a celestial fire-maelstrom. The image is intended to reflect media images taken in Australia during 2019 and 2020, where massive bushfires caused the destruction of native forests and have claimed over 12 million acres of land. It shows nature can act on vast scales and serves as a stark warning that our planet needs nurturing.
Alluna Optics RC-16 telescope at f/8, 5 nm Ha filter, Paramount ME II mount, SBIG STX-16803 camera, 32 x 10-minute exposures.
“145 Seconds of Darkness” by Filip Ogorzeski (Poland). Our Sun, Runner-up.
This image was captured during the total solar eclipse seen on 2 July 2019. The photographer traveled 13,000 kilometers from Poland to Chile to see the total solar eclipse. His plan was to create the most minimalist picture of this breath-taking event and capture the brief moment when nature freezes; the birds fly to their nests and the temperature drops during 145 seconds of darkness.
Fujifilm X-T2 camera, Carl Zeiss Touit Planar 32 mm f/1.8 lens at f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/90-second exposure.
“Observe the Heart of the Galaxy” by Tian Li (China). People and Space, Runner-up.
This image depicts the photographer climbing the radio telescope and Mingantu solar radio telescope array. First, the photographer tested and moved his camera so that the M8 and M20 nebulae would appear right next to the telescope. After taking the foreground image, he moved his camera a little bit but still pointing at the same location in the sky, and captured the background with an equatorial mount.
Sigma 135 mm telescope at f/1.8, Sky-Watcher Adventurer mount, Canon EOS 6D camera (modified), 135 mm f/1.8 lens, ISO 1600
Sky: 15 x 30-second exposures
Foreground: 30-second exposure.
“Tycho Crater Region with Colours” by Alain Paillou (France). Our Moon, Winner.
The Tycho crater is one of the most famous craters on the Moon. This huge impact has left very impressive scars on the Moon’s surface. With the colors of the soils, Tycho is even more impressive. This picture combines one session with a black-and-white camera, to capture the details and sharpness, and one session with a color camera, to capture the colours of the soils. These colors come mainly from metallic oxides in small balls of glass and can give useful information about the Moon’s geology and history. The blue shows a high titanium oxide concentration and the red shows high iron oxide concentration. This picture reveals the incredible beauty and complexity of our natural satellite.
Ceslestron C9.25 telescope at f/10 and f/6.3, Orion Sirius EQ-G mount, ZWO ASI178MM and ASI178MC cameras, multiple 15-millisecond exposures.
“Lone Tree under a Scandinavian Aurora” by Tom Archer (UK). Aurorae, Runner-up.
The photographer decided to explore on foot around the hotel on a very crisp -35°C evening in Finnish Lapland. When he found this tree, he decided to wait for the misty conditions to change and could not believe his luck when the sky cleared and the aurora came out in the perfect spot. The photographer spent about an hour photographing it before his camera started to lock up due to the conditions, but by then he was happy to call it a night.
Nikon D850 camera, 15 mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 1000, 13-second exposure.
“NGC 3628 with 300,000 Light Year Long Tail” by Mark Hanson (USA).
NGC 3628 is a popular galaxy target for both astrophotographers and visual observers with its distinctive dust lane. Studies by professional astronomers have shown that the evolution of some galaxies is the product of a series of minor merges with smaller dwarf galaxies. This image is an epic undertaking of five years of exposures taken with three different telescopes, although the majority of the exposure was in 2019. The goal of this ambitious mosaic is to show the tidal tail, measuring 300,000 light years in length, with enough depth combined with a wide field of view to show it in its entirety.
Planewave 17, Planewave 24 and RCOS 14.5 telescopes at f/6.8, Planewave H200 and Paramount ME mounts, SBIG 16803 camera, L-RGB composite, 54 hours total exposure.
“Infrared Saturn” by Julie F Hill (UK). Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation.
Dark River is a sculptural work that maps, or mirrors, the Milky Way celestial entity using one of the largest images ever made of its central areas. Referencing Elizabeth Kesseler’s notion of the astronomical sublime, as well as Gaston Bachelard’s idea of ‘intimate immensity’, this gigapixel image of the Milky Way, showing around 84 million stars, is reworked into a sculptural ‘affective space’ that affords a bodily and imaginative engagement with the viewer. The image was obtained with the VISTA survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile and contains nearly nine billion pixels. This was an incredibly large file to work so the artist had to cut it down into manageable pieces to then print. She made 2.2 x 1-meter sections, which she then laboriously printed and glued together by hand to create a 9 x 5-meter sheet when flat. The image was digitally printed at 300dpi using archival pigment inks, onto a Japanese paper that is lightweight yet robust. In creating this piece, the artist was emulating the mosaic process used by astronomers when processing and compositing data. The artist retained the naturalistic colors the astronomers used to color the image, which makes the celestial more earthly and relatable. The full-sized print is sculpted to adapt to the space in which it’s displayed.
VISTA Survey Telescope, Infrared J 1.25 μm, Infrared H 1.65 μm, Infrared 2.15 μm channels, ESO/VVV Survey/D. Minniti Acknowledgement: Ignacio Toledo, Martin Kornmesser.
“The Prison of Technology” by Rafael Schmall (Hungary). People and Space, Winner.
The star in the center of the image is the Albireo double star, surrounded by the trails of moving satellites. How many more might there be by the time we reach next year’s competition? There could be thousands of moving dots in the sky. In order to create astrophotos, photographers have to carefully plan where to place the telescope, and this will be more difficult in the future with more satellites in the way.
Sky-Watcher Quattro 200/800 astrograph telescope (modified) at f/4, Sky-Watcher EQ6-Pro GOTO mount, Canon EOS 6D camera, ISO 1600, 5 x 150-second exposures.
“The Four Planets and the Moon” by Alice Fock Hang (Reunion), aged 11. Youth Competition, Winner.
Photographing a planetary alignment requires rigor and patience but also a lot of luck. That evening, despite preparing everything for a week, the photographer encountered clouds. The magic started after sunset, where the moonset, Venus, Mercury, the star Antares, Jupiter, and Saturn could be seen over the Indian Ocean. By looking at the sky map, The photographer could see that Pluto was there also above Saturn but invisible in my image. Note also the presence of Alpha Centuari on the left of the image as well as our immense galaxy, the Milky Way.
Nikon D610 camera, 35 mm f/3.2 lens, ISO 3200, 18 x 13-second exposures.
“Collision Course!” by Winslow Barnford (USA), aged 15. High Commended, Youth Competition.
This is an image of the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31) as well as two smaller galaxies (Messier 32 and Messier 110). The photographer started collecting data on this target in Sequoia National Park, on a dark-sky trip, however, due to technical failures he had to finish the image from his roof, under much heavier light pollution.
Meade Series 6000 70 mm f/5 APO Astrograph Quadruplet refractor telescope at f/5, Orion Atlas Pro mount, Nikon D5300 camera, ISO 400-1600, 3-hour total exposure.
“Liquid Sunshine” by Alexandra Hart (UK). Our Sun, Winner.
Solar minimum may be seen as a quiet Sun and deemed dull in white light, but if you look closely at the small-scale structure, the surface is alive with motion. This surface is about 100 kilometers thick and the ever-boiling motion of these convection cells circulate, lasting for around 15 to 20 minutes. They are around 1,000 kilometes in size and create a beautiful ‘crazy paving’ structure for us to enjoy.
Celestron C11 XLT Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope at f/50, Baader Solar Continuum Filter with ND3.8 AstroSolar Film, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro mount, ZWO-ASI174MM camera, 8.431-millisecond exposure.
“The Outer Reaches” by Martin Lewis (UK). Planets, Comets, and Asteroids, Winner.
On 3 December 2019, the cloud cleared around mid-evening to reveal exceptionally steady skies over the photographer’s home in the UK. Making the most of the conditions, he turned his telescope to the distant planet Uranus and started gathering video frames using an infrared filter to bring out cloud details on this otherwise visually bland planet. To get the best images, a photographer must average the best of many short exposures. For an object as faint as Uranus, this means the individual frames are very noisy. That night, even through these noisy preview frames, the lighter polar region could be easily seen – a most exceptional situation and a testament to the steady skies that night.
Home-built 444 mm Dobsonian Newtonian reflector telescope at f/12.1, Astronomik 610 nm filter, Home-built Equatorial tracking platform mount, ZWO ASI290MM camera
Uranus: 13,500 x 8.6-millisecond exposures
Moons: 1,170 x 100-millisecond exposures.
Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year: Website
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
“Doubts,” 2020 (Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed)
Baku-based textile artist Faig Ahmed is renowned for his mesmerizing textile pieces. He completed his most recent carpet design after months of interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Entitled Doubts, this remarkable red tapestry features intricate patterns that dissolve into a viscous fluid shape, framed by white tassels.
“We started the production of this work a month before the whole world plunged into doubts about the future due to the current situation caused by the pandemic,” Ahmed says in an Instagram post. “Because of the quarantine we had to close our textile studio several times and artwork on the loom was waiting for its time. A few days ago, after 7 months, ‘Doubts?' were cut off the loom. There are no more doubts in this carpet, destroying the geometric intelligible boundaries of the patterns—overflowing they geal on the floor—this is the limit of doubts.”
Ahmed's contemporary carpets are based on traditional textile craftsmanship, which he then deconstructs and reimagines in new and exciting ways. While some have distorted patterns that appear to “glitch out,” others play with the volume of the carpet itself. It is this intersection of tradition and innovation that makes Ahmed's designs a visual delight. For this reason, the artist's extensive portfolio of avant-garde textiles have been exhibited in museums across the globe. In 2013, the artist was also nominated for the Jameel Prize 3 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
You can learn more about Doubts by visiting Sapar Contemporary's Instagram. Additionally, more of Ahmed's amazing carpets are on view at the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design in Oslo, Norway until October 11, 2020; the Istanbul Modern Museum in Istanbul, Turkey until October 18, 2020; the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia until September 22, 2020; and at the Colección SOLO in Madrid, Spain.
Faig Ahmed is world-renowned textile artist, best known for his innovative carpet designs.
“Doubts,” 2020 (Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed)
He recently completed his newest work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Doubts,” 2020 (Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed)
Entitled Doubts, this magnificent carpet includes intricate patterns that melt into a seemingly viscous puddle.
“Doubts,” 2020 (Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed)
Other pieces in Ahmed's growing collection of surreal carpets feature varied visual distortions.
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Images courtesy of Faig Ahmed
Get a closer look at Doubts in this video:
View this post on Instagram
My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Faig Ahmed.
Jesse’s Visual Interviews: Gabi Ben Avraham
This week’s Jesse’s Visual Interviewee Gabi Ben Avraham puts on a clinic of shadow use and layers with these phenomenal responses
Q1: Who are you?
Q2: What is your favorite way to waste money?
Q3: What do you consider the most underrated virtue?
Q4: When are you happiest?
Q5: What did your first kiss feel like?
Q6: Where is home?
Q7: Which body parts (yours or otherwise) do you feel the most affection for?
Q8: What’s a recurring theme in your life?
Q9: How do you define childhood?
Q10: What is your favorite time of day?
Q11: Who is your favorite person?
Q12: Which person or place do you miss that only exists in a photo?
Thank you for your responses, Gabi Ben!
Guess just randomly, added each other on Facebook through the photo community. And through all the copy and pasted material, there were always just perfectly composed street photographs with just a simple date and location in my feed just about daily. You get so lost in everything else that you forget to just pause and look. So ended up spending an enjoyable half an hour going through his work…as you should haha. Links below:
Jesse Freeman is a writer for JapanCameraHunter.com and an accomplished ikebana artist as well. You can see more of his work through his sites:
Want to read Jesse’s other great reviews? Then click here to go to the archives.
The Italian photographer Giulia Frigieri wanted to profile a young Iranian woman and her passion for surfing. But there was more to the story than her images revealed.
By Haleh Anvari
Giulia Frigieri, Shahla Yasini, the first Iranian female surfer, 2017, from the series Surfing Iran
Courtesy the artist
There’s a particular photograph that emerged last year, appearing in major publications around the world and winning a 2019 Portrait of Humanity prize. It’s a portrait of a slender young woman in a flowing blue scarf, against the backdrop of a blue sea and holding a blue surfboard. Her dark features and hair beautifully contrast the vivacious blue of her long scarf, which is blowing just enough to create the shape of a shark fin. Apart from the serendipitous aesthetics of the photo, the “wow factor” is in the fact that she is a hijabi surfer. It’s the improbability of it that fixes our gaze.
The photograph, of an Iranian woman posed on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, is by Giulia Frigieri, an Italian anthropologist by training whose photographic practice is driven by her interest in issues relating to women and youth. She has traveled to the Middle East several times in pursuit of these stories and created series on the young and hip in Oman, the tattoos of traditional Berber women of Morocco, and Surfing Iran, in which Frigieri shares the story of Shahla Yasini—the young woman in her award-winning photograph. The seventeen photographs available from the series on Frigieri’s website—shot in medium format on a Rolleiflex camera—were taken in the village of Ramin, in a remote part of Iran’s southern coast near the city of Chabahar, about a hundred kilometers from the Pakistan border. Chabahar, until recently a no-go area that required permits and special dispensations for visitors from outside the province, is now being remodeled into a tourist destination. The area is dogged by poverty and the prolific smuggling activity of a border region; it’s a deeply traditional place, making the notion of women surfing a very unusual one.
When Aperture asked me to write about Frigieri’s work, specifically Surfing Iran, I found myself triggered. As someone whose own practice has questioned the politics of representation of Iran through press photography, the series seemed a prime example of what I refer to as “so what?” photography. Yes, we have sportswomen who must play their sports in hijab. Yes, there are youth in the Middle East who like to do as youth do in the West. So what? My conversation with Frigieri was framed by this sentiment, and a bitter aftertaste that the “wow factor” for Western media consumers is pegged to Iranian women’s struggles to bend the rules of modesty to their will.
But I couldn’t have known how much more I would stumble across.
Giulia Frigieri, Boys after a day of practice on Ramin Beach, 2017, from the series Surfing Iran
Courtesy the artist
The Middle East is a paradise for photographers, a place where visual contradictions are often explained by tensions between tradition and modernity in a region dominated by Islam and its varying degrees of imposition on personal freedoms, especially of women. These contradictions attract Western adventurers and journalists who regard their passage through our part of the world as a katabatic journey, a metaphoric descent into the underworld, from whence they will emerge stronger, if only they survive to tell the tale. Their stories provide catharsis for their Western audiences back home, who can feel good about having surpassed the backwardness of this region in their achievements of modern, progressive, and egalitarian behavior—sentiments that deserve closer examination as many in major US and European cities rise to protest against the racism and othering that still exists despite this progress. This habit of regarding the East through an exotic lens creates a deep resentment among the “natives,” who feel their lives are the subject of smug voyeurism and a big bounce platform for journalists on a flying visit.
This spring, when I spoke with Frigieri, a thirty-year-old graduate of Goldsmiths in London, she was in quarantine in Abruzzo, Italy, and I was locked down at home in Tehran. Why, I asked her, is the image of a woman surfing in her hijab such a spectacle? After all, brands like Nike have begun manufacturing sporting hijab garments to accommodate Muslim female athletes. Frigieri told me she had followed in the footsteps of Easkey Britton, an Irish surfer who, in 2013, traveled to Iran to surf where no one had surfed before. On that trip, Britton selected and trained two local women—Shahla Yasini, a diver and lifeguard, and Mona Seraji, a snowboarder. In the process, Britton introduced surfing to one of Iran’s most neglected areas. She also made a documentary about it, Into the Sea (2016).
Giulia Frigieri, Shahla and Shams, 2017, from the series Surfing Iran
Courtesy the artist
On Frigieri’s website, her image selection for Surfing Iran displays a series of portraits of Yasini. But apart from a couple of landscape shots that give us an idea of the young woman’s environment, Yasini appears as a truncated character without any life or backstory. She’s just a surfer in hijab without connection to a wider community. In the last of the selection, she stands next to a young man, with a surfboard between them. Stiff bodies with a stiff board. The caption to this photograph reads: “Pioneering an incredible movement, Shams and Shahla are the protagonist[s] of this new scene which sees young men and women of Iran both equally involved in supporting surf as empowering force, a tool for a change. Working towards a better future and new possibilities for young people of Iran, the new generation is putting together a new powerful tool that is going to forecast ‘waves of freedom.’” This text would seem to express a simplistic optimism about the struggle of Iranian women and youth in breaking social barriers on a daily basis, but is the native only redeemed by fulfilling the expectations of the visitor? Is the visitor only redeemed by heralding changes that mirror the ideals of the viewer? Is surfing evidence of freedom?
What Frigieri’s very tight selection of photos does not tell us is that she visited Iran three times. In the course of each trip, she became closer to her subject, and a friendship was forged. The images posted to her website, from Frigieri’s first trip in 2017, were originally published in Huck magazine in 2018, and later picked up by publications such as Vogue Arabia and La Repubblica. In 2018, Frigieri made a second trip to bring Yasini a new surfboard. Even though the authorities had allowed Britton to teach the sport and make a documentary, by Frigieri’s third visit, the storytelling possibilities had completely changed in the small fishing village of Ramin, where surfing had taken off.
Giulia Frigieri, Shams driving a motorbike to Ramin Beach, 2017, from the series Surfing Iran
Courtesy the artist
“When they started, everything was much freer,” Frigieri explained. “By the time I arrived in 2017, the government-controlled association had been created, but men and women were still surfing together. By 2019, Ramin had become very popular for surfing, with workshops and tours. With popularity came control. I was told not to take pictures of men and women surfing together.”
Even on her first trip, Frigieri encountered difficulties getting permits to work. Yasini came to the rescue, accompanying her to the southeast of the country, chaperoning her so she could take her photographs. Frigieri stayed with Yasini and her family, who are originally from Zahedan, but who now live in Tehran. By her third trip, in 2019, Frigieri had become familiar with the twists in the politics of sports in Iran, and with the vulnerability of women like Yasini—not just to traditional mores, but also to the patriarchal establishment that determines the fate of a female athlete who fails to comply with their rules and whims.
Giulia Frigieri and Shahla Yasini, Iran, 2019
Courtesy the artist
During our conversation, Frigieri revealed that she had taken many more photographs of Yasini during their developing friendship. When Frigieri shared the wider edit, I was moved to see Yasini’s world expanded with the detail and specificity that should characterize a documentary series. We see Yasini pick up Frigieri from the airport, at home with her family without the ubiquitous hijab, on the water with other surfers—of both sexes. Yasini is revealed as a figure with a personality navigating a complex world. But why are these photos not on Frigieri’s website? What drove Frigieri to edit her stories with such a heavy hand?
I called Yasini, who had recently relocated to Chabahar and started a job in marketing. She catches the surf on her one day off, on Fridays. She immediately understood my reaction to the photograph. “The idea of a documentary showing Iranian women surfing with hijab was attractive to the authorities when Easkey came for her project. It showed that hijab is not a limitation,” Yasini said, referring to a popular slogan about the mandatory use of hijab, which was established after the 1979 Revolution. “But when Giulia tried to take photos, we faced some serious obstacles wherever we went in Chabahar.” The sport was now being regulated, and Yasini, an early member of the federation, had fallen out of favor for reasons that she preferred not to discuss.
Giulia Frigieri, Shahla gets fully covered according to Iranian dress codes to go surfing, 2017, from the series Surfing Iran
Courtesy the artist
“I live here and have to abide by the rules,” Yasini added, explaining the absence of photos showing her in her everyday environment. “Giulia shouldn’t be criticized. She should be thanked, because I asked her not to publish some of the photos.”
Frigieri had agreed to respect the wishes of a subject bound by rules and forced to self-censor. But was there a way that she could have edited her photographs to accommodate Yasini and the Iranian authorities while sharing more of the story with the viewer?
I called on two pioneering women in Iranian photography who know how to navigate the rules: Newsha Tavakolian, Magnum’s first Middle Eastern woman photographer; and Simindokht Dehghani, the owner of Ag Galerie, one of Tehran’s most progressive spaces for new photography. I asked them both to look at Frigieri’s photographs and suggest new edits of the Iranian surfer story. The results were revealing.
Giulia Frigieri, Shahla shaking hands with her friend Reza, Ramin Beach, 2017, from the series Surfing Iran
Courtesy the artist
Tavakolian, who has worked for more than twenty years as a press photographer, noted that in her own work, she was sensitive to images that might get the subject into trouble with the Iranian censors, who would not accept any photos of women without their hijab. In her edit of Frigieri’s photographs, she omitted the more intimate shots of Yasini at home without her hijab. (Tavakolian, who was one of three judges on the jury of the 2019 Portrait of Humanity prize, had relied heavily as a young press photographer on the hijab as a shorthand to signal her location, but she later developed a more nuanced approach to her storytelling through staged art photography.) Dehghani, who represents photographers whose practices span both the documentary and the more abstract, chose shots that would tell the story of the person and the place. Her selection restored some of the more personal shots and added some poetic touches—but only one of Yasini without her hijab, one where her face is obscured from view. Clearly, art photography in Iran can circumvent rules that the news photographer cannot ignore.
Giulia Frigieri, Shahla Yasini with her parents, Tehran, 2017
Courtesy the artist
Personally, I would have added the photographs taken of Yasini’s family. After all, it was Yasini’s parents’ acceptance and encouragement of their daughter’s desire to try something completely new that forms the backbone of the story. They fill in the picture of an Iranian family deflecting the restrictions imposed on their female offspring—like many families in Iran. That is why there is such a difference between representations of Iran and Iranians in indoor versus outdoor spaces.
In a photograph from Frigieri’s last trip to Iran, the photographer poses with Yasini: they are swimming, and Yasini takes a selfie. The photographer has entered the frame, fully reversing the gaze on the other. It’s the very heart of this story—a friendship between two millennial women from different geographies, both courageous enough to step outside of comfortable norms. Yet, ironically, it was an image Frigieri deemed unsuitable for publication—because of her greater understanding of the circumstances of her subject who, by allowing her into her private sphere, had also extended to her the censorship that governs her world.
In the end, we are left with an eye-catching portrait: at best, reminiscent of a fashion shoot; and at worst, an unintentional promotional poster that obscures the story of the young woman surfer—a story that might have provided a more textured understanding of Iran, a country whose image is stultified by repetitive clichés, perpetuated both by outsiders and its own government.
Giulia Frigieri and Shahla Yasini, Hormuz, Iran, 2019
Courtesy the artist
I had to accept that without Britton’s sense of adventure to share the sport that Yasini loves, Yasini may never have learned to surf, which she says changed her life. “I had experienced the depth of the sea through scuba diving, but surfing is like being on top of the world,” she said. Without Frigieri’s decision to follow this story, we may never have seen the eye-catching, blue surfer-girl photo—and I, for one, would not have known that there was any surfing in my country. The katabatic journey is perhaps not always a simple story of redemption for the traveler; it can be the story of gifts exchanged. Here, the gift is the freedom to surf the waves, not just for an Iranian woman, but for a whole new generation of Iranians. Yet all of this is obscured by the Western gaze on a hijab.
After Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” and Roland Barthes’s “punctum,” we need to find a name for this kind of othering that plagues photography from faraway places. These photos tend to be tyrants—they obscure as much of the story as they try to tell. Let’s call it the “obscurantist moment”: a photographic mirage that pretends to show you something but fails to reveal the full story; the moment when photographers fall prey to the power of clichés. This happens not only in Iran, but anywhere that history has created a concrete, cookie-cutter viewfinder of a place in the Western psyche. For photographers who connect deeply to their subjects, the obscurantist moment creates a dilemma. What they cannot show must be told through honest and detailed captioning, and they must resign themselves to the fact that no one photograph (or even a series) can ever tell the full story. Their photographs must not be reduced to Western fantasies or local propaganda; they are mere portals into complex circumstances.
Haleh Anvari is a writer based in Tehran.
© Jean Claude Gautrand
© Tatsuo Suzuki
All images © Louise Michel, shared with permission
Banksy’s latest artwork can be spotted on a vessel rescuing refugees from north Africa, who are attempting to cross the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe. The anonymous British artist, whose work we’ve talked about extensively, used the proceeds from the sale of an artwork to purchase a former French Navy boat, which is named after anarchist Louise Michel. With a fire extinguisher, Banksy sprayed the exterior with pink paint and adorned it with a version of the iconic “Girl with Balloon.” This iteration outfits the child with a lifevest and swaps the red heart with a pink flotation device.
The project was conceived of in September 2019 when Banksy contacted Pia Klemp, who led several missions with NGO boats to rescue refugees. “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass. I am an artist from the UK and I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy,” the artist wrote, according to The Guardian.
Now, Klemp and a professional rescue team helm the 31-meter lifeboat, which already has brought aboard hundreds of refugees. Capable of at least 27 knots, the boat is faster than most ships, allowing it to reach people faster and “hopefully outrun the so-called Libyan coastguard,” Klemp says. The project’s mission is explained on its site:
It might seem incredible there is need for a homemade emergency vehicle in one of Europe’s busiest waterways, but there is. The migrant crisis means that European states are instructing their Coastguard not to answer distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’ leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea. To make matters worse authorities prevent other boats from providing assistance, arresting crews and impounding boats that do.
This past weekend, the Italian Coast Guard responded to distress calls from the vessel after it became overloaded with passengers, at one point carrying 219 refugees and 10 crew members on the main ship, with 33 people still in rafts floating alongside. The agency evacuated 49 migrants along with the boat Sea-Watch 4, which brought aboard another 150.
View this post on Instagram
Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Photograph: André Penner/AP
Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters
Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP
Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters
Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images