In this collection of cosmic photographs, comets, nebulas, and galaxies stretch before the human eye, showering the sky in glittering scenes that ought to be from a telescope. But instead of looking upward into the night, Finnish photographer Juha Tanhua points his camera to the ground. He documents his “oil paintings” in broad daylight, shooting gasoline and oil spills usually found in car parks. “I don’t look up, but down,” he tells Colossal. “It’s not space above us; it’s space under our feet. You can find subjects to photograph even in dull places like parking lots. Expect nothing, get everything.”
The photographer first got his idea for the gasoline puddles when noticing an oil spill next to his car. “It looked a little bit like the northern lights,” he says. He forgot about the image, which he named “Urban Aurora Borealis,” until finding it months later when organizing an archive. After that, when walking around parking lots after heavy rain, he began to notice more leaks and started to document them. He now has hundreds in his collection. “I named them oil paintings,” he says. “Because it looked like artworks under cars.”
Tanhua likens rain to a brush, which “paints the artwork” and is an essential component in ensuring the stains don’t fade in the dry summer. Once captured, he plays with the exposure, editing the highlights, shadows, and contrasts of each image to gain the appearance of galactic matter from a combination of the oil patterns and the ground’s rough texture.“When I shoot against black asphalt and underexpose the image, the rocks on the asphalt turn into stars,” he explains.
Currently living in the small village of Vuolenkoski, near Lahti in Southern Finland, Tanhua obtained his first camera at age 15, when his father gifted him an Olympus 35 DC compact model that he purchased while working in Japan. In 1979, Tanhua began an apprenticeship at a local studio, which launched subsequent careers in journalism and later freelance photography. His works are now included in collections within the Finnish National Gallery and Lahti Art Museum. You can find more of his photos on his website. (via Peta Pixel)
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Set against a star-studded backdrop, Comet Leonard, aka the Chrismas Comet, blazed overhead on December 26, emitting a colorful stream of light that illuminated the dark skies. Andrew McCarthy (previously) documented the celestial body as it hurtled over the Arizona horizon and created this striking, magnified composite of 25 separate shots. The image, along with a wider photo shown below, captures the brilliant colors surrounding the nucleus as it flies 150,000 miles per hour through space. Comet Leonard was first spotted about 466 million miles away on January 3, 2021, and is making its closest pass to the sun exactly one year later, before it’s expelled from our solar system entirely.
McCarthy details his 12-minute process for documenting the body on PetaPixel—watch this clip to see how far the comet moved during that period—and explore his wide range of astrophotography on Instagram and his site, where he also sells prints.
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Equipped with joysticks and panels of gauges and knobs, an intricately constructed spaceship built by Zim & Zou (previously) navigates through a starry expanse of whimsical planets and alien creatures. The pink-and-blue craft, which was designed as a window display for Hermès, is the latest project from the French artists, whose elaborate scenes and characters are constructed from precisely cut paper sculptures. This fantastical work, titled “Journey of a Lifetime,” peers over the adventurous protagonist, who traverses an unknown world amidst a chaotic scene of levers, monitors, and tea that’s flung into the air of the weightless environment. You can see details from the installation and more of Zim & Zou’s work on Behance and Instagram.
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From dark spots and wispy flares to coronal loops that burst upward in brilliant arches, a giant new composite by Andrew McCarthy (previously) exposes the intricate, swirling patterns that cloak the sun’s surface. “Fire and Fusion” is a 300-megapixel image captured at 2 p.m. on November 29 and the Arizona-based photographer’s most detailed shot of the celestial matter yet. “Our star is a chaotic ball of plasma. Planet-sized streams of plasma snake up from the surface, dwarfed by looming prominences and filaments,” he says. “Blinding bursts of energy stem from areas of heightened magnetic activity, pushing and pulling on the solar surface and creating fascinating patterns in the atmosphere.”
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According to Olso-based photographer and researcher Jon Larsen, the most exotic particles from across the universe are likely hiding in a rain gutter or scattered among debris on rooftops. Larsen, who works in the geosciences department at the University of Oslo, has been at the forefront of micrometeorite discovery since 2009 when “a shiny black dot suddenly appeared on my white veranda table while I was having strawberries for breakfast.”
The event sparked a now decades-long exploration into the field of “cosmic dust particles, the oldest solid matter there is, ‘ash’ from dead stars, etc,” he tells Colossal. “Nothing has traveled farther…The search/hunt for stardust continues in all directions, but I am particularly interested in the unmelted ones, which contain water and complex organic molecules, (the) building blocks of life.”
These findings are what Larsen calls urban micrometeorites or minuscule bits of extraterrestrial matter found in heavily populated areas. Even though 60 tons of the dust fall to Earth every day, scientists previously considered the tiny pieces only discoverable in remote regions devoid of human life “due to an unsurmountable wall of terrestrial contaminants,” the researcher says. “Furthermore, the micrometeorites were thought to have a very short lifespan here on Earth due to the harsh weathering.”
That theory changed after Larsen scoured countless areas across the globe, producing a monumental archive of tens of thousands of particles. These range from the common barred olivine to the rare glass with chromites and volcanic residue. Most are considerably smaller than .05 centimeters.
Larsen’s pioneering research has culminated in a few books, including an identification guide and a forthcoming tome collecting his paintings, photos, and drawings on the subject. It also forms the basis for Project Stardust, a global community of micrometeorite hunters where he shares images of the gleaming, metallic findings in the form of striking macro shots that reveal crystalline details, jagged edges, and the particles’ lustrous surfaces. Simultaneously focused on the discovery and beauty of his findings, Larsen’s practice falls at the intersection of science, photography, and art. He explains:
Stardust looks like nothing else down on Earth, and they are beautiful jewelry from space. That it fell on me to discover these extraterrestrial beauties was rather bizarre because I do not come from academia but the art world… It was these qualifications which enabled me to find the way through the labyrinth and discover what everybody else said was impossible.
The publication of Larsen’s next book will coincide with exhibitions in Oslo and Berlin. You can find more of his work in the recent Werner Herzog documentary about meteors and comets, Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, and explore the vast archive of his findings on his site. (via Kottke)
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Orbital Planes: A New Photography Book by Roland Miller Documents the Final Years of NASA's Shuttle Program
Fine art photographer Roland Miller (previously) has been documenting America’s space program for more than 30 years, obtaining exclusive access to the interior spaces of orbiters and rockets, as well as manufacturing, testing, and launch facilities around the United States. The Utah-based photographer has captured a singular vision of the space program with a hybrid of abstract and documentary imagery, from macro details of fabricated elements to spectacular shuttle launches at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In his newest book Orbital Planes, Miller focuses entirely on the waning years of NASA’s shuttle program, a project he embarked on starting in 2008. More than just documentation of the machine’s construction or photographs of pivotal launches, though, his work is an artistic interpretation of the shuttle program in its entirety. Miller shares:
Along with the images in the book are my accounts of interactions with the Space Shuttle program and its personnel. I approached this subject in the a hybrid style of documentary and abstract imagery to tell a more complete story. […] Orbital Planes is the result of that photography work. My hope is that Orbital Planes will give the reader their own personal view of the Space Shuttle and the technology and facilities that helped it fly.
Orbital Planes will be published in 2022, and Miller is supporting the project with a Kickstarter that includes a variety of signed prints found in the book. You can follow more of his work on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Art
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