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Celestial Objects, Sarah Pickering

From Celestial Objects © Sarah Pickering

From Celestial Objects © Sarah Pickering

  • Dates:October 2013
  • Status:Archived

Commissioned by Locus+ in partnership with NEPN and presented at Durham Art Gallery during The Social: Encountering Photography Festival.

Photography is used by astronomers to look back in time. Observed wavelengths reveal the elements that form distant galaxies, whose light has taken billions of years to reach us. Images generated by the Hubble space telescope are enhanced and aesthetically interpreted from the information received, and the Hubble observatory also employs CGI to visualise phenomena such as the Big Bang and colliding universes. It’s not always apparent which imagery of deep space derives from the observations and which from conjecture. It appears that in imagining the Big Bang the hypothetical imagery draws from that which is already known – explosive special effects and high-energy reactions from weapons.

Intriguingly the seduction of film, and the seduction of the explosion cross paths, as cinematic heroes and villains shoot each other in storyboarded narratives, locked in a perpetual feedback loop. The gun is a mythologised artefact. “Aim”, “In sight”, “shootandfire; the language of the gun is shared with that of photography and film. It’s not surprising that the camera and gun evolved together. In the 1880’s cameras with sequential frames for time and motion studies were made from modified guns with a a rotating disc of light sensitive film recording in the place of the bullet that would have frozen motion.

In examining the point where language and imaging intersects, this newly commissioned series of images is made by photographing bullets firing from a revolver in total darkness. Each of the photographs I have taken captures the entirety of a gunshot, from start to finish. Contrary to the high-speed fraction of suspended action used in scientific imagery by Harold Edgerton known for his micro second photographs of nuclear explosions and bullets in mid flight, these images are a summation of the durational energy and action that the camera witnessed.

Sitting on the line between objective fact and imagined reality, the fragments of muzzle flash reference epic cinema, the skies of romantic painters such as John Martin – and the expansive dioramas his paintings inspired. The slippage between cataloguing observation and subjective association is territory that fascinates me. I propose that instead of fixing a certainty, the representations we make of the world amplify our doubts about the experiences we have of reality.

Celestial Objects was exhibited at Durham Art Gallery in 18 October 2013 – 12 January 2014 in the exhibition Aim and Fire, a core exhibition of The Social: Encountering Photography.

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