Selenography

by Steve

Bad photo of the moon

“A white moon appears like a hole in the sky”

Bye Bye Pride, The Go-Betweens

I leave home and it still feels like night. The moon looms large. I make my way towards the station, and towards the moon. There are a few other people on the street, but nobody seems startled by the size of the shape in the sky.

I take my phone out, try to take photos. Each is worse than the last. The street lamps get in the way. I move at the wrong time as the phone takes so long to take a picture. The phone doesn’t have a great camera. I wonder if there is any other art where it is acceptable to blame your tools.

I can see this overwhelming scene but I just cannot capture it. Afterwards I’ll wonder if I had seen it at all.

I play with filters, cropping, settings. The picture becomes something else, willfully distorted. It is all in the editing, I guess. Take something beautiful, awe-inspiring, make it something small, twisted, obscure.

The word lunacy is derived from Luna, the Latin for moon.

*

A couple of weeks ago I looked up some old television footage of the first moon landing. It is an astonishing piece of television, a rare kind of drama I’m not sure I’ve encountered before.

For a long time the screen was taken up with an artist’s impression of the lunar module making its way to its destination, with a soundtrack of the actual live radio conversations between astronauts and Earth. Here were men hurtling towards immortality of one kind or another. I thought about how President Nixon had two speeches prepared, one for success, one for failure. Words for different paths.

They landed. As Armstrong and Aldrin prepared to make the first steps on the moon, the coverage returned to the studio. Duke Ellington played.

And then Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, and first words.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The broadcast anchor isn’t sure what was said. Even then there was confusion. The signal isn’t always clear. The message can be misunderstood wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you are doing.

*

If I had walked in the other direction as I left home, headed away from the moon, I would have soon ended up at Crayford Manor House, where for many years, before the moon landings, Hugh Percy Wilkins led an astronomy class. The moon now has a crater named after him.

In 1951 Wilkins produced a 300 inch map of the moon. The map was full of detail, but it was believed that in places that detail was fictitious.

Technology took over from Wilkins’ selenography, the art of mapping the various elements of the moon. However, the map remained of interest and of use. In later years the map would be shown to Neil Armstrong.

Neil Armstrong views Wilkins' map

Selenography is derived from the Greek lunar deity Selene and graphō, “I write”.

*

A small child picks up a circular piece of cheese. She takes a bite and looks at the crescent shape she has created.

“I made a moon!”

She certainly did.

Advertisements