While Neil Armstrong is not best known for his photography, he captured many of the iconic images from the first manned mission to land on the moon. Trained as the mission photographer, his images from the moon served their purpose of documenting 2.5 hours of work setting up experiments and exploring the lunar surface. But in addition to their documentary purpose, the images taken by Armstrong have served to inspire others and demonstrate what human kind is able to achieve.
Born in August of 1930, Armstrong earned his pilot’s license at the age of 15, before attending Purdue University and flying 78 missions in the Navy during the Korean War. Later on, his skills as a test pilot lead him to be selected as an astronaut for NASA’s Gemini and eventually the Apollo program. On July 20, 1969 Neil, along with lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, landed on the surface of the moon after a four day journey from Earth. While on the moon, Armstrong took nearly all of the photos captured by the primary camera, a modified 70mm Hasselblad 500EL.
In addition to the symbolic significance of these images, they are also exceptional images from an artistic standpoint. His perspective of the lunar surface cannot be matched by orbiting satellites or Earth-based telescopes. Without an atmosphere, the moon offers a unique quality of light, which is not dispersed or scattered. Shadows appear truly black without the scattered light we observe on Earth, as does the lunar sky. The low angle of the sun during Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s visit produced long shadows which extenuated the texture of the lunar surface. The barren landscape is often contrasted by the futuristic looking lunar-lander or the extraterrestrial suits. Roughly two-thirds of the images were captured with color film, which surprisingly adds significant detail to the gray, rocky surface. The simple compositions feature only Aldrin in his suit, the lunar lander, and the experiments they setup all on the gray surface, yet each is extremely unique.
As a space enthusiast myself, Armstrong’s photos provide a window into another world. He has inspired me to seek new perspectives for my photography, while reminding me that an excellent photograph is often a simple photography. He was reluctant to be considered an American Hero, and did not firstly consider himself a photographer, yet his images have changed the way we look at ourselves and the universe around us.
1. Chase Jarvis Blog: “Inspirational Photos by Neil Armstrong” http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2012/08/inspirational-photos-by-neil-armstrong-primary-photographer-on-the-first-successful-manned-mission-to-the-moon/
2. Wikipedia: “Neil Armstrong” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Armstrong
3. NASA: “Apollo 11 Image Gallery” http://history.nasa.gov/ap11ann/kippsphotos/apollo.html