Tripping Among the Stars
'Night Skies' by David Malin was at the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast
Review by John Hoey
David Malin is an astronomer; he is also an artist. Working from the same template as the amateur photographer with the tripod, camera, and time exposure, who explores the circadian revolution of the heavens, Malin convenes a body of work which invokes wonder and conveys beauty.
Night Skies - The art of Deep Space is a collection of mostly colour photographs of subjects which have never been 'seen' by any human except as mediated by silver halide. The photographs were taken using the optical telescopes of the Anglo-Australian observatory in New South Wales. The objects depicted are astronomical phenomena - far away galaxies, clusters of stars, and nebulous gas clouds.
Colour emulsions are not 'fast' enough to use directly in astronomical observation. Each image has been photographed three times in black and white using alternatively red, green, and blue filters, long exposures of 30 minutes or more, and Malin's own specially sensitised plates. The exposures are widely separated temporally - red, green, and blue plates sometimes being made several months apart - the telescopes being used in the meantime by other observers. Separate black and white images representing colour information are recombined to produce colour photographs. There's more than a hint of 'National Geographic' about these images. Indeed some of Malin's photos have been used in that journal. But the gallery prints have an impact and character which is not always conveyed by small size reproductions. Most of the prints are 70cm by 100cm. Three of them are even bigger, (1.8m by 2.5m) The high resolution and shear physical size of these larger prints gives them an awe inspiring quality.
The galactic whirlpools and nebulous shrouds of Malin's images are representations of cosmic reality. In nearly all instances the intensity of the light from these objects is below the threshold of human colour vision, so their colour quality has never been 'seen' by anybody. It is in a sense a manifestation of photochemical imagination - Celestial Abstract Expressionism. The very large images in particular hold one's attention. The centrepiece of the exhibit, Sombrero Galaxy, NGC 4549 displays its millions upon millions of suns and worlds and other Malins, yet for all intents and purposes it exists only in the mind of the viewer, created there by colour chemistry.