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How can the field of astronomical photography, viewed through the lens of new materialism, alter our collective perception of ecology? How does the entanglement of astronomy and materiality alter our perception of the photographic object?

Within this time of ecological catastrophe, it is important to readdress our tangible, material connection with the universe and our planet. By analysing this interaction between astronomy, new materialism and photography, I provide new insights on how this collision of theories alter our understanding of the natural world. I do this by demonstrating the interconnectedness between the universe, humans and photographic materiality. I discuss the importance of interrogating the materials that we use on a daily basis, with a specific focus on waste produced by the photographic industry.

Analogue astronomical photography, viewed through the lens of new materialism, uniquely allows us to understand the intimate connection between the cosmos and the Earth bound. Silver is found within distant stars, yet it can be mined from the depths of our Earth and used to create photographic images. Calcium is also found within stars such as our Sun, yet it is also a building block of bones and teeth, which can then be processed to make gelatin.

The thesis draws upon my own reflective practice, where I have taken long exposure photographs of the stars within international dark sky locations, Kielder Observatory and UCLO Observatory. It also engages with the work of artists such as Garry Fabian Miller, Liliane Lijn and Katie Paterson, with a specific focus on works that engage with astronomy, deep time and materiality.” I look at Paterson’s “Fossil Necklace” and “Future Library”, Lijn’s “Solar Hills” and Miller’s “Night Cell”, considering how each work deals with large magnitudes of time in a material, tangible sense.

The thesis is situated within the context of new materialist theories which seek to understand the intrinsic material connections between human and non-human phenomena. I draw from theorists such as Jane Bennett, Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Anna Tsing and Timothy Morton who analyse the complex network of material exchanges from a perspective informed by contemporary science, as well as ancient indigenous perspectives. By understanding more about the interconnected nature of photographic and astronomical materiality it is imperative to innovate new methods of sustainable photographic practice. This research therefore contains experiments within analogue photographic practice which are less damaging to the environment, including plant-based developers and silver reclamation from photographic fixer. Distinct from contemporary astronomical photographic images which are often made of composites and enhanced colour, Ancient Light demonstrates the intimate connection that humans share with the stars, by examining the tangible, entangled connections between the stars, human existence and the ecology of planet Earth. The thesis advances knowledge within this area by weaving these connections together, providing new insights into the materiality of photography through lens of varying magnitude, from microscopic to cosmic.

https://www.melaniek.co.uk/ancient-light

https://www.melaniek.co.uk/ancient-light-lockdown-2020

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