David Malin: Ancient Heavens

New York

28 March — 25 May 2002

Press Release

March 28 – May 25, 2002

David Malin’s pioneering astronomical photography is on view at Edwynn Houk Gallery from March 28 through May 25. The show consists of lush platinum/ palladium contact prints whose beauty reveals the artistic impact of these exceptionally accurate images of deep space.

The art of photography has, since its inception, repeatedly crossed paths with the science of astronomy: the art providing the science with new tools of perception and analysis, the science lifting the art into the divine realm of the unseen. The “ancient heavens” which compose the study of astronomy - stars long vanished whose light travels to us through billions of years - remain largely invisible to the naked eye. The alchemy of photography reveals their latent images, providing us with ghostly visions of the origins of our universe.

For over 25 years, the astronomical photographer David Malin (born 1941) has been opening up radically new vistas into this enlarged perception of the universe. His photographs of celestial objects were shot at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in New South Wales – where Malin was the photographic scientist from 1975 to 2001 – using one of the largest telescopes in the world. But it is mainly Malin’s innovative darkroom techniques that have enabled him to produce unparalleled images of distant objects too faint to be seen by the eye alone. In his photographic laboratory in Sidney, Malin has invented new ways of extracting information from astronomical photographs that lead to the discovery of two new types of galaxies, one of which is the largest galaxy known, Malin I. These processes include “photographic amplification”, a way of copying glass plate negatives with a diffuse light source to bring out faint signals that ordinary exposures can’t record, and unsharp masking which enables subtle features to stand out in the brighter parts of an image without overexposing the print.

These and other techniques have been incorporated by Malin into a method of making three-color photographs of previously unseen deep space objects. Malin’s unprecedented color prints present the first true and undistorted image of the skies. Conversely, his black-and-white imagery shimmers with the glow of deeper truths that deal less with the reality of the stars then with our own existence. “We are made of star stuff, created inside stars that have long since vanished in spectacular explosions.”, concludes David Malin from his photographic explorations. Beyond the pure facts of science, these observations echo with the poetry of Shakespeare’s Prospero, musing: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”. For like the magician’s visions, Malin’s photographs make tangible the very mystery of life.

Born in England, David Malin studied chemistry and explored photography very early on. He worked as a chemist in optical and electron microscopy using photomicroscopy before turning to astrophotography. His photographs have been widely published in books and magazines and have been praised for their scientific value for many years. More recently they have been recognized as art and have been reviewed and exhibited internationally as such. Malin has written at length on his discoveries. A recipient of numerous scientific and photographic awards, he balances his hectic schedule of lectures around the world with attending to the evergrowing requests for his pictures. His work is part of the collection of museums, institutions, and private collectors internationally.