Heavens: Photographs of the Sky & Cosmos (Kansas City)

Heavens: Photographs of the Sky & Cosmos
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
June 15 – November 13

Mark Klett
Humankind has long been fascinated with the realms above us. For more than 150 years, photographers have looked to the heavens for inspiration and personal expression. With the invention of the telescope, photographers were afforded a new way of looking at the seemingly constant sun, moon and planets. Space exploration allowed even more dramatic views of distant worlds invisible to the naked eye. Heavens: Photographs of the Sky & Cosmos, June 15–November 13, features 39 photographs from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art collection that explore, among other out-of-this-world subjects, the strange beauty and inherent wonder of the craters of the moon, spots on the sun, and distant galaxies.

“What do you see when you look up? The sky and clouds, the sun and moon, and further, space,” said Jane L. Aspinwall, assistant curator of photography. “There is much to be learned and experienced through images of the heavens. Each photographer utilizes their own process, to convey a range of ideas about time and man’s place in the universe.”

The sky and clouds have long been identified with transcendence and the spiritual. The sun is the center of our existence, our essential source of light and life. Paradoxically, the sun’s illumination allows us to see the world, but its intensity makes it practically impossible for us to actually see the sun. Solar eclipses are presented in Heavens by photographers John Adams Whipple, E.J. Ward and Lewis P. Tabor, among others.

“Heavens provides fresh perspective on subjects that everyone knows, but which are rarely pondered,” said Aspinwall. “For example, Chris McCaw’s work makes the physical power of light literal: his photographic paper is actually burned by the intensity of the sun’s image as it is focused by the camera lens.”

Heavens unites the simple and the all-encompassing. At once timeless and forever new, our urge to look upward is a fundamental sign of our humanity, a symbol of our need both to locate ourselves and to imagine other realities. This simple impulse unites science and spirit, the things that can be seen and those that can only be imagined.