Turned Towards the Firmament
On the 19th of August 1839, François Aragon addressed a joint session of the Académie des Sciences and the Académie des Beaux-Art in Paris to present one of the first photographic processes: the daguerreotype. After explaining the workings of the new technology, he went on to muse about photography’s future applications:
‘However, as soon as it is turned towards the firmament, one discovers myriads of new worlds; by penetrating into the constitution of the six planets of the ancients, we find them similar to that of our earth, with mountains whose heights can be measured, with atmospheres whose changes can be followed, with forming and melting polar icecaps, analogous to those of the terrestrial poles; with rotary movements similar to the ones here below that effect the intermittence of days and nights.’
What sounded like mere speculation in 1839 has now become reality. Since 2004 NASA is placing rovers on Mars that depict and measure the planet’s geological features - exactly as predicted by Arago. But the images we see are deceptive, what resembles Earth, remains an alien and toxic environment.
Downloading some of NASA’s imagery I translate it into unfixed salt prints. Washed in a strong solution of sodium chloride, I stabilize the prints, but I don’t make them permanent. As they remain sensitive to UV light, they are destined to change and eventually disappear.