Each year the Royal Museum of Greenwich organises a competition that awards the best of astronomical photography in several categories.
The best photographs of 2013 /
In one of the fragments from the unfinished Book of Passages, Walter Benjamin focused on one of the handiest of subjects; one we turn to after we find ourselves in an awkward social situation after encountering someone we don’t know, or that we barely know, and yet, for some existent or inexistent reason, real or imaginary, we feel obliged to speak. Then we blurt out something about the weather. We coincide in the lift with a co-worker that we only see now and then or, due to professional duty we board a taxi where we will spend several minutes alone with the driver, suddenly and unexpectedly we find ourselves alone with a friend of a friend, and it seems like we are unable to remain silent in any of these situations. We then speak of the rainy days that we’ve experienced of late, of the burning summer sun, of the morning cold. A shared issue, conventional to the extent of banality, where Benjamin’s point finds itself: “Nothing bores the common man more than the cosmos. From there that for him the narrowest relation between weather and tedium exists”.
In these two lines the philosopher contrasts the ancient and modern perspectives surrounding this celestial event. While earlier civilisations considered the skies to be the home of gods and the canvas for omens, while for modern man this is, if at all, an element of the reality where daily, perhaps rarely, and only as a final instance incomprehensible phenomena happens. Like in Octavio Paz’s brief poem, significantly entitled “Analfabeta” (“Illiterate”), to the common man the cosmos does not even represent an enigma, perhaps because he does not feel required to understand or solve it:
I raised my face to the sky,
Immense stone of worn-out letters,
The stars revealed nothing to me.
And, all in all, the cosmos is an inexhaustible source of awe. Its excess is material as well as intellectual: our reasoning understands it but at the same time seems surpassed. If we feel a certain degree of boredom facing this presence perhaps it’s due to the latter: we are inevitably surpassed and it overflows within us. A boredom that is essentially rational, which in some way prevents us from realising that an essential component of admiration does not pertain to the realm of logic thinking, but perhaps to the sensual giving of perception.
Each year the Royal Museum of Greenwich organises a contest with the purpose of awarding the best astronomical photographs in different categories. So, “Earth and Space”, “Our Solar System” and “Deep Space” are some of the thematic groups that in some way name forms in our cosmos that are present in our daily lives throughout the calendar. In the same way, the “Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year”, designed for people who are under sixteen years old and who despite their young age are already talented enough to obtain some of the most impressive shots of the universe and, on the other hand, the award given to the overall best photography in the competition, the “Overall winner” who receives 1,500 pounds.
This year (2013) the winner was Australian Mark Gee with a photograph in which the terrestrial horizon shares the same frame with the sky: the semi-arid landscape from North Island in New Zealand shares harmonic space with the Magellan Clouds and the central zone of the Milky Way, two neighbouring galaxies. Gee named his piece “Guiding Light to the Stars”.
Other outstanding winners include Chinese Ma-To Hui, in “Our Solar System”, with an image that shows the solar crown during a total eclipse the 12th of November 2012, seen in the Southern Hemisphere, and the American Adam Block in the “Deep Space” category with the image of the Sh2-239 Nebula, a stellar structure who undergoes certain changes every hundreds of thousands of years: an eternity on the human scale.
In sum, the contest shows us that the cosmos is undoubtedly among the most inexhaustible sources of astonishment at this moment and within this reality, which we also belong to.
I: Corona Composite of 2012: Australian Totality,Man-To Hui
II: Celestial Impasto: sh2–239, Adam Block
III: Guiding Light to the Stars, Mark Gee