Art and science meet in Michael Benson’s new photographic exhibition, featuring 77 images of celestial bodies in our solar system at London’s Natural History Museum (NHM). Benson created each work by compositing photographic data acquired by various NASA and ESA probes and rovers, some of which launched as early as the 1960s.
Hosted in the penumbral Jerwood Gallery, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey from the Earth, towards the sun and subsequently outwards to Pluto, stopping at each planet (and the odd asteroid) along the way whilst listening to original ambient music composed by Brian Eno. Additional audio commentary offers personal perspectives from NHM scientists on a selection of the images.
Many of the images are truly spectacular and there are a few that even the most avid cosmology enthusiast is unlikely to have encountered before. The razor-sharp image of frozen dunes on Mars, and the rarely seen pale blue hue of Saturn’s icy rings are beautiful works – so much so that this reviewer must confess to purchasing a large print of the latter!
Further highlights include composites of Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io, the delicate rings of Uranus and the mauve Plutonian atmosphere recently captured by the ESA’s New Horizons mission.
At times, it feels rather like you are walking through still shots of the BBC’s astonishing “Wonders of the Solar System” – and herein lies the problem. Much of the additional material for “Otherworlds” – see, for example, the promotional video above – asserts that it offers something new. In the video, Benson describes how, as he constructs the images, he realises he’s the first person to see a planet in a particular way. Maybe so, but to 99.9% of visitors, that won’t be apparent, and images of Jupiter’s red spot or Saturn’s rings are some of the most well known to mankind. Elsewhere, we learn the familiar message that an image of a typhoon over India and Sri Lanka speaks of anthropogenic climate change’s effect on these storms.
‘Otherworlds’ promises novelty; it doesn’t, for the most part, deliver. What it does offer, however, is a stunning view of our nearest neighbours in the Universe. These are images you are simply going to want on your walls – and that’s the exhibition’s real selling point.
Michael Benson’s Otherworld’s: Visions of Our Solar System runs until 15th May 2016 at the Jerwood Gallery in the Natural History Museum, London. Adults: £9.90, Children and concessions: £5.40 and families: £26.10.