A trove of rare photographs documenting “the golden age of space exploration” is now up for auction at Christie’s.
Per a statement, the collection of 2,400 vintage snapshots features the only known photograph of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on the moon, the first selfie taken in space and the first image of Earthrise.
Open for online bidding through November 20, “Voyage to Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection” consists of 700 lots detailing everything from NASA’s creation to the Gemini spaceflight program and the 1969 moon landing. Many of the photographs included in the sale went unreleased by NASA at the time of their creation and have never been previously seen by the general public.
“This is probably humanity’s greatest creative and ingenious achievement, landing a man safely on the surface of the moon and bringing him back to Earth,” James Hyslop, head of science and natural history at Christie’s in London, tells Reuters’ Sarah Mills. “Looking at some of these images, you can really be transported to the surface of the moon.”
Private collector Victor Martin-Malburet assembled the images over the course of 15 years. In 2019—the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing—a number of major cultural institutions, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, the Grand Palais in Paris and the Kunsthaus Zürich, displayed photographs from the collection in their commemorative exhibitions.
“The astronauts are often portrayed as great scientists and heroes, but rarely are they hailed as some of the most significant photographers of all time,” says Martin-Malburet in the statement. “… From the thin protections of their space capsules and EMUs (Extravehicular Mobility Units), they captured, with skill and daring, photographs which immediately embraced the iconography of the sublime, inspiring awe and wonder.”
One of the auction’s highlights is a snapshot of Armstrong standing near the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Though several photographs document fellow crew member Buzz Aldrin’s experience on the moon, only one shows Armstrong taking a step across the moon’s rocky surface.
Hyslop tells CBS News that the photograph was forgotten in the decades following the July 1969 mission. It resurfaced in the 1980s and is now expected to sell for between $37,800 and $63,000.
Another item of note is a 1965 self-portrait taken by Aldrin during the 1966 Gemini XII mission. Deemed the “first space selfie,” the image is particularly impressive given the circumstances under which it was captured: “in the near-vacuum of space, in clumsy, awkward astronaut outfits,” as Hyslop says to CBS News.
Other photos on offer feature breathtaking shots of cosmic phenomena. Blue Marble (1972), for instance, is the first human-taken photograph of the fully illuminated Earth. In the image, bright white clouds swirl around the planet’s azure oceans, looking more like abstract daubs of paint than droplets of water vapor.
Because the images were taken at “a time when photography was still analogue, requiring light sensitive chemistry, film and photographic papers,” per the statement, astronauts including Aldrin and Armstrong received formal training prior to departing for outer space.
“[W]e had to impress upon them the importance of when to look at them to get the right shadow [to take a good photo],” Farouk El-Baz, lead geologist on the Apollo program, told Express’ Callum Hoare earlier this year. “They did very well, actually. Neil Armstrong, in particular, was very meticulous about it, [and] we were always impressed.”