I went to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and inside, I saw the moon – not the one in the sky but a scaled down moon 1/500,000th the size of the real one.
It was on display at the north end of the cathedral. The effect as you enter is breathtaking. There, in front of you, is a faithful representation of the moon, with all its grandeur and hypnotic power.
I coudn’t take my eyes off it. The scores of visitors couldn’t either. They photographed it, had selfies taken with it, put their hands out and pretended to hold it while they had their photo taken. They sat on the steps on either side gazing at it, walked around it, lay on the floor staring up at it.
It’s an artwork created by the artist Luke Jerram, but for me, the fascinating thing about this representation of the moon is that it is a composite photograph, a three dimensional print. It’s basically a sphere with a large composite image of the moon’s surface printed on it.
You can find lots of information about Luke Jerram and his incredible moon on the Museum of the Moon website. I particularly recommend the Radio 4 documentary on the ‘Press’ page. It is presented as a video with still images of the artwork in the various locations it’s been on display. These include Tintern Abbey in Wales, a swimming pool in Rennes, France, the Commonwealth Games in Australia and many more.
Actually there are multiple moons on tour all over the world.
It has a magical presence but basically it is a balloon, a similar one to a weather balloon, with artwork printed on it. Luke Jerram has used the technology that’s readily available to create and print this masterpiece and it makes me think: “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The moon is made out of curved sections which are each printed with photographic images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. They are then assembled into a sphere, which is inflated and hung from above. The sphere is lit up from inside.
For me, the moon looked best later on in the evening as the sunlight was fading. Then you can imagine you are in lunar orbit, observing it from hundreds of miles up.
It’s a remarkable experience to see the moon – or a copy of it – so close. It’s not possible to touch it as it’s suspended just above arm’s length.
It’s even more remarkable to see the hidden ‘dark side’ of the moon, the side we never see. This strange half of the moon is covered mostly with craters, while the familiar side has its distinctive darker ‘seas’ surrounded by countless craters and even craters within craters.
One of the ministers at the Cathedral provided information to visitors and he pointed out to me the exact location of the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility. I looked hard but didn’t see the remains of the mission!
By the way each centimetre represents five kilometres of the moon’s surface so if you could touch your thumb on the surface, it would cover an area as big as a medium-sized airport.
I had intended to spend maybe half an hour there, but I ended up staying around three hours. I felt reassured, inspired, comforted by the proximity of the moon.
Exhibiting it within a place of worship adds an extra level of meaning. The prayers offered in the cathedral seemed fitting.
Some observations: This moon is lit up from within with no dark areas, but at any one time, only about half of the real moon is in sunlight, the rest is in shadow.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter surveyed the moon’s surface from orbit and recorded the images at different times. For this reason some of the craters have the shadow on the left and others nearby have the shadows on the right. This makes your eyes see them with the curious ‘bulging crater’ effect, where you see the crater in reverse because you think the shadows are from the left when they’re from the right, and vice versa. That’s not a criticism and probably not many people will have noticed it.
What would really improve the experience is if the sphere were continuous all round, as well as top and bottom, with no joins and no circle at the top and at the bottom.
It would also be great if the sphere floated – I believe Luke Jerram is working on this and I can’t wait to see the floating, helium-filled moon when it is ready.
It’s artistic, it’s educational, it’s scientific.
All in all it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time and it has presented many opportunities for photographic experiment. I’ll present those in another article.
For now, let me just say that I found this artwork stunning. I grew up with the moon landings and have taken countless photos of the moon myself. Whenever I look at it rising in the sky, it still has a powerful visual effect on me, probably dating back to those ‘moonshot’ times of my childhood.
I went back for another visit on Thursday night, the last night. I managed to get there for 9.45 – there was a long queue. Soon we were inside and I savoured those final moments with the moon. At 10:30 the minister read a special prayer and we recited the Our Father. And then it was time to leave and the Cathedral security employees herded us towards the door. One of them gave me a stern talking to as I took my final shots. They had obviously had a very long day!
At the front door I gazed back at the moon one last time and then walked out under the dusk sky of Liverpool. I couldn’t see the real moon, as there was too much cloud.
I’ll write more about the techniques I use to photograph the moon in another post.
If you have a chance to see and photograph this incredible, astonishing and mesmerising artwork, then go and see it. It is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.