The Invisible Photograph

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Still from The Invisible Photograph, episode 3. Extraterrestrial: The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Courtesy Hillman Photography Initiative, Carnegie Museum of ArtStill from The Invisible Photograph, episode 3. Extraterrestrial: The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Courtesy Hillman Photography Initiative, Carnegie Museum of Art

The Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hillman Photography Initiative continues its investigations into the life cycle of a photograph with The Invisible Photograph III. 

The video explores the idea of obsolescence – in this case, the retrieval of raw images from the NASA lunar orbiter missions. Working out of an abandoned McDonald’s at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, a team of retired scientists and engineers worked to retrieve a set of photographs from 1966 to 1967, when five unmanned space probes were sent into space to survey the lunar landscape. A 70-millimeter Kodak camera was on board each of the space crafts, and they transmitted nearly 200 high-resolution photographs, only a handful of which were processed. The team of scientists has reconstructed a machine to digitize 1,500 reels of magnetic tape and recover the images.