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Below you will find recordings and images of talks, workshops, performances and screenings taking place throughout The Whole Earth, December 7-9, 2022. 

Wednesday December 7, 2022

Live Broadcast

There's No Planet B: NASA's "Blue Marble" Fifty Years On. 

The events kicked off with a special edition of the University of Portsmouth's regular series Pop Matters. This was live broadcast, filmed and streamed by Television Production students and featured an exciting panel of speakers: Rebecca Janicker (Senior Lecturer in Film and Media, University of Portsmouth); Peter Kramer (Senior Research Fellow in Film, De Montfort University); Jennifer Levasseur (Curator at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.); Chris Pattison (Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth). Hosted by Lincoln Geraghty (Professor of Film and Media Cultures, University of Portsmouth), the discussion explored a range of topics, from the Blue Marble's historical significance, artistic precursors and impact on popular culture, to the role of astronaut photographers and the photograph's enduring legacy. Click to your right to view the recording.


A Short Video Welcome to Events (Tom Byrne, FamiliarStrangerFilms)

Tom Byrne of FamiliarStrangerFilms was on hand to capture some of the event's highlights and present them in a visually arresting short video. The video features appearances, contributions and artworks from, in order of appearance, Dan McCabe (Course Leader MA Graphic Design, University of Portsmouth), Claudia Maraston (Professor of Astrophysics, Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth), Jennifer Levasseur (Curator at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.), Ziggy Kolker (Senior Lecturer in Photography, University of Portsmouth), James Ryan (Professor of History, University of Portsmouth), Robert Poole (Professor of History, University of Central Lancashire), Rachael Brown (Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture, University of Portsmouth), Matt Smith (Reader in Applied Theatre and Puppetry, University of Portsmouth) and Simone Gumtau (Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture, University of Portsmouth).

Welcome and Introduction

The Whole Earth: NASA's "Blue Marble" Photograph Fifty Years On

A welcome to the events from Olly Gruner (Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture, University of Portsmouth) followed by introductory remarks from Claudia Maraston (Professor of Astrophysics, Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth).  Claudia discusses the extraordinariness of our Blue Marble from the point of view of an astrophysicist studying space, the universe, and the thousands of other planetary "marbles" known to exist. She notes that of the 5000 planets that we are aware of, only a few hundred could be similar to the Blue Marble. The planet with the closest similarity to Earth is 2700 light years away, which emphasises how important, "precious" and unusual our planet is. You can join Claudia's talk 11 minutes into the recording. She also introduced Jennifer Levasseur (16mins 35 secs), who gave the first of our public talks (listen below). Click below to see the visual work devoted to the Blue Marble created by 3rd year Graphic Design student Josh Langley (referenced 10 minutes into the introduction).


Animated poster (Josh Langley, 2022)


Blue Marble Invitation (Langley, 2022).

Schedule poster (Langley, 2022)

Public Talk

The Visual Legacy of Apollo Astronaut Photography (Jennifer Levasseur, Curator at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.).

Jennifer Levasseur provided an engaging talk on what she termed "one of the most important and compelling images in human spaceflight history." Jennifer discussed the history of the photograph, the astronauts involved in the Apollo 17 mission, the political and cultural context into which the photograph emerged and the Blue Marble's enduring legacy. She made some strikingly new and challenging arguments about the photograph's "author" and the origins of the "Blue Marble" title. She also raised important points regarding the technologies used and the significance of human-taken space photography. Many of the points Jennifer made were reflected on and discussed further in subsequent talks (see e.g. James Ryan's response and the artist talks). You can view some of Jennifer's slides along with the audio recording by clicking on the images below.  And follow links in the "Further Resources" section for more of Jennifer's writings, including her influential book Through Astronaut Eyes: Photographing Early Human Spaceflight.

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2mins 30 secs: The Blue Marble "in its original form." Jennifer noted that this version of the Blue Marble is taken from the 70mm roll of film brought back by the Apollo 17 Astronauts. Credit: NASA.

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6mins 30secs: The crew of Apollo 17 - "the last human surrogates to see Earth from that distance." From left to right: Ron Evans, Harrison Schmitt, Gene Cernan. Credit: Smithsonian. 

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10mins 50 secs: Hasselblad cameras from Apollo 11 (contained in the Smithsonian collections). Similar to cameras used to capture the Blue Marble. However, the Apollo 17 would have used a powerful 250mm lens when taking this photograph. Credit: Smithsonian.

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15mins 50 secs: The edited Blue Marble. The version most commonly reproduced in books, environmental flags, even the "very first screensaver on an iPhone." Jennifer argued that the photograph "provided a human perspective on what it would feel like to see this Earth, alone, floating in space." Photograph credit: NASA.

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18 mins 30 secs: Jennifer discussed the various names given this photograph, noting that NASA's initial description described it as a "full earth" photograph, an image unobstructed by shadows, "the only instance when this was possible on an Apollo mission." Photograph credits: NASA.

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19mins 10 secs: Jennifer notes that the first reference to the Earth as a "Blue Marble" actually occurred in a news report on the Apollo 10 mission (see 22mins 30 secs). However, the "Blue Marble" moniker gains popularity later in the 1970s and 1980s. This was in line with the growing import placed on NASA as an educational institution and seeking to connect with young people (the name itself alluding to a children's toy). 

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20mins 40 secs: Big Blue Marble was a children's educational television programme intended to encourage children to "think globally, to think about something bigger than themselves." Representatives from NASA acted as advisors for the show (inc. astronaut Frank Borman from Apollo 8). 

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25mins 30 secs: US press coverage of the Blue Marble, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1972. Only the Boston Globe (Christmas Day) devoted a full page to the image. Note the ways in which the image, in other publications, was situated amongst stories covering global events and issues.

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27mins 30 secs: Home and Spaceship Earth (both 1985) by Angela Manno (Smithsonian Collections). Vivid examples of how the Blue Marble has served as inspiration for new artworks and imagery. Credit Angela Manno. 

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30mins 50 secs: Image captured by the DSCOVR satellite (July 2015). Satellite and digital compositing technology has enabled a number of new Blue Marbles to be created. Credit: NASA.

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32mins 30 secs: Recent images from Artemis 1 (2022). There are 20 cameras onboard Artemis but "only one that is pointed in the same way that an astronaut that would look out the window." The next Blue Marble "will not be taken by a white man." Artemis 2 promises to include a more diverse crew. Credit: NASA.

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Jennifer concluded her talk with a more specific photograph of Earth from space, namely of Portsmouth, UK, the conference venue. This is a view "that was enabled by that experience on Apollo 17. It was because we looked back at Earth and started thinking about Earth again that we put people in orbit around it and more satellites around it in order to understand it better. So when we talk about the environmental movement being inspired by the Whole Earth image, this is the result of that."

Public Talk

Response to Jennifer Levasseur and Introduction to Robert Poole (James Ryan, Professor and Head of the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature, University of Portsmouth).

James Ryan explored the Blue Marble as a work of "imaginative geography," covering themes such as authorship, ideology and photographic technologies. James noted that the Blue Marble operates "across discourses of science and art." On the one hand, it was a photograph very much promoted as exemplifying NASA's scientific and technological prowess (a photograph that served a PR function for the organisation). On the other hand, the Blue Marble (and space photography more generally) was shaped by creative decisions, artistic conventions and societal expectations. James responded to Jennifer Levasseur's points with regard to the Blue Marble's "authors" (the astronauts) being white men. He offered an ideological analysis of the photograph, noting how it  came to embody a "new frontiersmanship" and accompanying themes of conquest and mastery (more on this from 4mins 50 secs). James noted that space photography followed a long historical tradition of white male explorer photographers putting their imagery in the service of wider colonial and other ideological power structures. He also responded to Jennifer Levasseur's arguments with regard to the importance of the "human photographer" (as opposed to a satellite) and how human space exploration helps legitimate and "supercharge" wider narratives promoting the US's space program, space exploration and conquest. James concluded his talk reflecting on how the Blue Marble served as a "lightning conductor for a whole set of concerns" of the 1970s regarding humans' mistreatment of the planet and the environment. James introduced Robert Poole (12mins 20 secs), who gave the night's second talk and would speak further on this environmental theme (listen below). James' book Photography and Exploration is referenced in the "Further resources" section of this website, provides useful context for many of these arguments. NB: audio to follow - watch this space. 

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3mins 30 secs: James refers to Harrison Schmitt's photographs of the lunar surface during the Apollo 17 mission. These were taken for geological purposes, but are also visually compelling.  The following 4 images are examples of these photographs. It is interesting to look at these and reflect on Jame's point regarding space photography crossing discourses of science and art. Photo credit. NASA. 

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Lunar surface (Apollo 17). Credit: NASA. 

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Lunar surface (Apollo 17). Credit: NASA. 

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Lunar surface (Apollo 17). Credit: NASA. 

See also Ziggy Kolker's artwork (on the gallery page) for some interesting, evocative visual connections to these photographs. 

Public Talk

The Whole Earth: Blue Marble, 1972-2022 (Robert Poole, Professor of History, University of Central Lancashire).

Robert Poole gave Wednesday's evening talk, a fascinating look at Whole Earth imagery past and present. The talk enriched our understanding of the philosophical, political and scientific imperatives that underpinned humanity's striving to capture the Whole Earth. Robert provided a detailed history of efforts, prior to and during the space age to portray our planet, using a variety of images as a gateway into a wide-ranging narrative that took in everything from environmentalism, 1960s and 1970s politics and new technology to art history and space exploration. Robert provided a detailed account of the individuals and agencies behind 1972's iconic photograph. The talk concluded by raising important questions regarding contemporary (21st century) Whole Earth photographs and what they tell us about the planet's changing climate. Robert's ideas continued to serve as talking points throughout the conference (see e.g. Rachael Brown's talk below). Click to the right to listen to the talk and discussion in full. For images illustrating particular sections of the talk, see below. In the "Further Resources" section, you will find links to more of Robert's work, including his influential book Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth.

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Robert began his talk by suggesting that the Blue Marble, "seems to sum up every kind of understanding of the whole earth, with its sense of wholeness, healthiness, depth, inclusiveness, alternative technology ... it sums up that really rather strange world of the early 1970s." He then provided a brief history of Earth visualisation (pre Blue Marble), noting the extent to which geographic globes were established in the cultural imaginary long before astronauts went into space. Photograph credit: NASA.

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3 mins: Francisco de Holanda, The Creation of the Sun and Moon (1547). The earliest image, "by centuries that shows the Earth as blue and white." In many ways a prophetic work. Image credit: National Library of Spain. Click thumbnail above to visit the library's website for a collection of de Holanda's works

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4mins 20 secs: Image by space artist Howard Russell Butler (1920). An early example of the kinds of Earth imagery with which we are now familiar. Robert notes that the idea of "black space" is relatively recent, with the belief until almost the twentieth century being that we only went dark when we were in the sun's shadow.

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4mins 50 secs: US Weather Bureau satellite simulation of a Whole Earth image from 1954. Credit: US Weather Bureau. 

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5 mins 30 secs: Image by Chesley Bonestell for Colliers magazine (1952). One of a sseveral illustrations created by Bonestell for a series of articles entitled "Man Will Conquer Space Soon." Credit: Colliers (March 25, 1952).

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6mins 15 secs: NASA's Lunar Orbital Plan for Apollo 8 (1968). Robert noted that there was little difference in terms of how the Earth and Moon was represented, with no sense of the Earth as a living planet and the Moon. Credit: NASA.

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6mins 55 secs: The first "Whole Earth" photograph, taken by the Explorer Satellite in 1959. The image was subjected to a great deal of processing before release. NASA noted in its description that "scientists can discern clouds in the large white areas." Credit: NASA.

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7mins 35 secs: The first colour Whole Earth photograph, taken by the ATS-III satellite from 21,000 miles out in 1967. The Washington Post went into colour in order to publish the photograph, and it appeared in National Geographic. This was also the image that famously appeared on the front cover of the Whole Earth Catalog (1968, see next image). Credit: NASA.

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10mins 15 secs: The Whole Earth Catalog (Fall 1968). The Catalog's creator, Stuart Brand, had campaigned for NASA to take a Whole Earth photograph and his story plays a part in Blue Marble mythology (see Neil Maher's talk below).

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10mins 45 secs: Photograph from Apollo 4 (1967), an un-crewed mission. This photograph was hardly publicised and has not received much attention. Robert described the photograph as capturing the Earth "asleep" and noted its "3D appeal." It was placed on the front cover of a later Whole Earth Catalog. Credit: NASA. 

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11mins 30 secs: Apollo 8's Earthrise photograph (1968). The photograph is usually reprinted in landscape format, offering a familiar, appealing representation of the Earth rising over the moon. However, as Robert noted, the photograph was originally captured with the Earth to the side, portrait style as the astronauts were orbiting equatorially. Credit: NASA.

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12mins 50 secs: A digitally remastered Earthrise, as will appear on the front cover of the new edition of Robert's book on the photograph.

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14 mins: Photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronauts on their way home. This photograph appeared on the "Whole Earth Flag" of 1969 (listen to Robert's talk for more information). Credit: NASA. 

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14 mins 45 secs: The Soviet satellite Zond 7 satellite photograph of the Earth (1969). Robert noted that "no Soviet Cosmonaut ever saw the Whole Earth", but satellites did capture some vivid representations. 

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15mins: a Blue Marble-like image taken by Zond 7 (1969).

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15 mins 40 secs: The original Blue Marble (1972). Here, Robert provides some historical background to NASA's photographic ambitions and the key people involved - from NASA employees to editors at National Geographic magazine - in ensuring Apollo 17 astronauts captured a range of Earth images. Unlike Earthrise, the Blue Marble photograph was planned.

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21 mins 20 secs: undated Friends of the Earth poster using the Blue Marble photograph. An early example of the photograph's use in environmental campaign materials. 


27mins 10 secs: Poster commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences (1957). Robert provides, from here,  background to scientific thought of the post-war era, and its connections to space photography. Image credit National Academy of Sciences. 

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31 mins 30 secs: Diagram from the Scientific American (September 1970). 

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32 mins 30 secs: book cover, Only One Earth (1972), an unofficial report commissioned by the Secretary General of the United Nations in the wake of the 1972 "first Earth summit."

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33 mins 30 secs: In the early 1970s, the American physician Lewis Thomas wrote an essay entitled "The World's Biggest Membrane," where he compared the Earth to a living cell (not dissimilar to the Gaia theory then being developed by James Lovelock) and contemplates images of Earth from space. Image credit: NASA. 

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Thomas continued. 

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35mins: Other "Blue Marbles" - an image of Venus taken from Mariner 10 in 1974.

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35mins 40 secs: James Lovelock began developing his Gaia theory in the mid 1960s. The first articles, written with Lynn Margulis, appeared in the early 1970s. 

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38mins 20 secs: The image of the Whole Earth as a summation of much scientific and environmental thinking of the period. Credit: NASA.

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44mins: A recent "Blue Marble" captured by the DSCOVR satellite, December 5, 2022. Credit: NASA. 

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44mins 45 secs: Comparison of the 1972 Blue Marble and the photograph taken on December 5, 2022. Robert concluded his talk by reflecting on the changes to the Earth's climate that these photographs might reveal and argued that "the only mission that matters anymore is what NASA called in the 1990s the mission to Planet Earth."

Thursday December 8, 2022


GalaxyVRexplorer (David Basiru Amuneni, University of Portsmouth)

David Basiru Amuneni, a PhD student at the University of Portsmouth, delivered a fascinating talk and workshop based on his research into Virtual Reality and its potential for visualising space data. David's PhD project explores the extent to which creative technologies can be mobilised in order to visualise big data and, in particular, data that reveals the age of galaxies. The imagery David creates is based on scientific data. However, he uses  creative methods - an immersive virtual reality experience, vibrant colours - in order to engage non-specialists. Members of the public and conference participants were treated to a demonstration of the technology as it has been developed so far, with attendees invited to try out the headsets and explore a virtual universe. David's work traverses the worlds of science and art, computer game technologies and complex data sets. He discussed the opportunities and challenges he has encountered in trying to bridge these two disciplines in order to create something that can be of interest and use to specialists and members of the public alike. Click to the right to watch a short introduction to David's project and below for images of the workshop. 

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An inside view of David's immersive environment. Click to expand.


Artist Talks and Exhibition

 The Blue Marble and Time After Time: "Overview" in Troubled Times (Rachael Brown, Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture, University of Portsmouth).

Rachael Brown discussed her practice research project Time After Time in relation to ideas associated with the Blue Marble and, in particular, the so called "Overview Effect." While the Overview Effect was a term coined by Frank White to describe the profound cognitive shift and sense of being overwhelmed reported by astronauts on seeing the Earth from space, Rachael's artwork seeks to recreate this sensation as a political and emotional response to upheavals of recent years. Time After Time is a personal work, emerging from Rachael's own activism during the years 2016-2021 and is intended as a call for social justice. Experimenting with perspective and scale, Time After Time (re)presents events and movements such as the climate emergency, the Women's March (2017) and the Grenfell Tower fire (2017) in ways that are disconcertingly powerful, politically timely and emotionally raw. Click to the right to see some of Rachael's work and head an introduction. See below for images and audio from her presentation.

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Rachael introduced Time After Time, its conceptual underpinnings and political and artistic context. Further information in the video above.

Collages and prints created prior to Time After Time. Rachael discussed how these works were made in response to political marches and causes with which she has been involved over the past 5 years. Click play to hear more. 

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Panel 1 from Time After Time. Rachael recounted that the quote from author Olivia Laing (click slide to enlarge quote) "really summed up how I was feeling after years of campaigning and demonstrating and hoping for change." She described being "stonewashed, battered by the next news story and didn't have time to really give the story before the time it deserved." Thus is Time After Time devoted to reflection, remembrance, reparation, action, but also hope is woven into this all the way through."

Rachael explained how the Overview Effect and historical context (of both the 1960s and 1970s, and 2016-2021) impacted upon her artworks. Click play to hear more.

Rachael discussed artistic influences on her work, such as Max Ernst and Miwa Matreyek. Click play to hear more.

Rachael offered a panel-by-panel description of Time After Time. Click play to hear more.

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Rachael noted the "slow, cathartic" process that underpinned the making of Time After Time

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Early drafts of forthcoming panels for the project.

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Future plans/directions for the project. Click the image to find out more.

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Rachael concluded her talk with some thoughts on the power of art as a response to pressing issues and ideas of our times, ending with a poignant quote from Olivia Laing (click to read).

Artist Talks and Exhibition

Generation Loss (Dan McCabe, Course Leader MA Graphic Design, University of Portsmouth).


Dan McCabe discussed the origins and development of his practice research project Generation Loss, which yielded an engaging animated response to the Blue Marble and environmental issues. Dan's work plays on the phenomenon of "generation loss," that is, "the loss of quality between subsequent copies or transcodes of data." In this instance, Dan uses the degradation that occurs when the Blue Marble photograph is, literally, photocopied again and again as a metaphor for the Earth's environmental decline. He produced fifty photocopies of the Blue Marble,  representing one a year since 1972. The images become progressively faded and corrupted until the photograph is unrecognisable. As both historical testament and call to action, Generation Loss is a powerful re-appropriation of the Blue Marble and its symbolic force. It is a deceptively complex piece of work, which embeds a range of political, cultural and philosophical questions into a succinct, seemingly straightforward presentation (see slides below for more on this). Dan provided some background to his methods, the artists and designers that influenced his approach and the project's planned (and, also, unexpected) outcomes. You can find out more about Generation Loss by watching the slideshows below. Audio will be available soon.

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Dan started his talk with an overview of the ideas that inspired the project. In particular, his research/reading as well as preliminary conversations in the run up to the Whole Earth conference had drawn him to 2 key insights: 1) The connection the Blue Marble has with the environmental movement and 2) The photograph's widely-touted status as "one of the most reproduced images of all time." Showing how it adorned everything from book covers and posters to decorative photographs and objects, Dan highlighted the Blue Marble's omnipresence in the world of Graphic Design. See Jennifer Levasseur and Robert Poole (above) and Neil Maher (below) for further discussion of environmental issues and ideas on the photograph's reproduction.

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Dan discussed the work's conceptual background and ideas related to generation loss. He noted in particular the influence of composer and artist Alvin Lucier, whose work of sound art I am Sitting in a Room featured Lucier recording a narration, playing that narration back into a room and re-recording it multiple times. Both Dan's and Lucier's work re-contextualise an original utterance (visual or aural) through continual repetition. In the case of Generation Loss, this re-contextualising serves as a commentary on the parlous state of the Earth and its environment in 2022. 

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The visual culture of environmental activism also provided wider context for Generation Loss. Here, Dan discussed the interesting ways in which repetition and reproduction can serve as powerful political tools (the very act of mass producing posters, placards and banners - through methods such as silkscreen printing and lithography - has long enabled designers to spread their messages and promote their ideas to a wider public. For more on environmental protest posters, see Neil Maher's talk below. 

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Dan talked us through his methods and process, revealing striking images of how swiftly and noticeably the image degraded. He reflected on the extent to which the image began to resemble a "psychedelic poster" in its warped composition, colour scheme and increasing illegibility, making interesting connections between his own work and protest graphics of the sixties and seventies. Particularly notable was the extent to which, by scan fifty, the image actually looked like a "mushroom cloud", itself a prominent visual icon associated with postwar America (sometimes argued to have been the defining  technological visualisation of the postwar era until the Blue Marble (see Neil Maher's discussion of Stewart Brand, below, for more on this). In many ways, Dan's work alluded to and came to embody some many of the historical issues discussed throughout the events. 

Public Talk

Greening the Blue Marble: Space Data, Visual Culture and the Birth of an Environmental Icon (Neil Maher, Professor of History, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers University).

Neil Maher provided a detailed and engaging study of the Blue Marble's place within environmental histories. Neil complicated the standard argument that this photograph immediately became an icon associated with the environmental movement, arguing instead that early interpretations stressed "global unity, not planetary environmental concern." He noted the fact that the Blue Marble is absent from visual culture of the 1970s environmental movement. Not until 1990 does it become prominent in campaign imagery (view from 21 mins for a discussion of this imagery) . Rather, we see the beginning of "the greening of the Blue Marble" through the 1980s, with NASA using images of the globe to illustrate space data related to climate change and ozone depletion. Neil's arguments had already served as talking points, had been discussed and reflected on in earlier talks (e.g. Jennifer Levasseur's above) and during Q&A sessions. It was, therefore, all the more timely to have these arguments developed here in such detail. Neil provided rich historical and visual material and takes us on a journey through post-war America's appropriation and re-appropriation of Whole Earth imagery, in science, in politics and in public culture. Interspersing the talk, and afterward, there was a lively discussion and Q&A, which raised new  points related to the Blue Marble's environmental significance. Click to the right to watch the full talk, imagery and discussion. And find links to more of Neil's work in the "Further Resources" section, including his influential book Apollo in the Age of Aquarius.

Public Talk

Earth and Space in Blockbuster Movies, 1959-2019 (Peter Krämer, Senior Research Fellow in Film, De Montfort University).

Peter Krämer provided a wide-ranging and rich analysis of science fiction cinema. Focusing on box-office hits, Peter identified themes that pervaded, with eerie repetitiveness, cinema throughout the 1950s-1970s: "space-based weapons, dangerous primitive alien life forms, intelligent humanoid visitors from other planets" (among others). Peter argues that Hollywood at this time continually promulgated a pessimistic vision of humanity under threat and a world in danger of complete annihilation. But if pessimism defines so many productions, Peter suggests that 2001: A Space Odyssey was an exception, offering, for many viewers, a more "hopeful" vision for space exploration and the future of humanity. Peter concluded his talk with a reflection on Hollywood cinema post 1977, considering the interplay and tension between themes of hope/comfort and despair/destruction in so many of our era's biggest hits. Peter's ideas had already received some attention in the Pop Matters live broadcast (see above) and were developed and discussed to exciting new levels here. Click to the right to listen to the talk in full and below for images illustrating particular sections of the talk. See the "Further Resources" section for links to more of Peter's writing, including his influential book 2001: A Space Odyssey

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5mins 30 secs: Silver Surfer #1 (1968). Peter provided some personal reminiscences of his encounter with space themes as a child, notably in comics such as Silver Surfer. 

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11mins 24 secs: Cixin Liu's novel The Wandering Earth (2000) was turned into a film in 2019. Though less known to western audiences, this was an enormous hit in China. Peter used this film as an entrance point to begin identifying ideas and trends present throughout blockbuster films of late 20th and early 21st century. Listen in for a full discussion. 

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21mins 21 secs: Peter argued that the fear of global annihilation pervades Cixin Liu's work, just as it does so many Hollywood science fiction films. In this novel, Supernovq Era, an explosion many light years away "reaches Earth and causes the death of everyone over the age of 12." A "terrifying theme" for the very reason it is a real possibility. 

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26mins 8 secs: Theatrical poster for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Credit: Disney. Peter provided some background to science fiction cinema's success at the box office prior to and after 2001's release. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) was the only science fiction film to reach the US box-office top 20 list during the years 1950-1958 (n0. 2 in 1954). From 1959-67, "the genre establishes itself at the box office" with 1 or two sci-fi releases in the top twenty "almost every year." 1968 marks key year in blockbuster science fiction films with the release of Planet of the Apes and 2001, both top ten hits. They would prove influential on the themes developed in hit films of the following decade (listen from here for further discussion).

33 minutes 50 secs. Peter showed us the credit sequence for 2001. He noted the fact we have here an iconic representation of the Earth rising above the moon in a film released several months before the Earthrise photograph.

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41 mins: Star Wars theatrical poster. Credit: 20th Century Fox. The years 1977-1979 saw a slew of high-profile science fiction releases, including the first Star Wars film, the poster for which is above. 

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43mins 20 secs: Left - image of the Hiroshima bombing (1945). Uncredited. Right - image of the Nagasaki bombing, taken by Charles Levy. Both public domain. Peter suggested that the dropping of the atom bomb, and, subsequently, fears of nuclear war throughout the post-war era, would impact filmmakers and influence the pessimistic themes and anxieties present in science fiction cinema.

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54 mins: 2001: A Space Odyssey theatrical poster. Credit: MGM. Peter argued that 2001 "combined worries about nuclear war with a belief in the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence and its interference with earthly affairs in the past, present and future."

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60mins 50 secs: Close Encounters of the Third Kind theatrical poster. Credit: Columbia Pictures. Peter discussed the "bittersweet" themes surrounding alien abductions in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).


62mins: Cocoon (1985). Credit: 20th Century Fox.  "In Cocoon and Close Encounters leaving the Earth and entering space is presented as the fulfilment of secret hopes and dreams, a transition into another realm altogether, another form of existence."


63mins 20 secs:   Theatrical poster for Contact (1997). Credit: Warner Bros. This film, as is the case with Gravity (see below), focuses on characters whose trips through space transform them, personally, intellectually, spiritually.


64mins: Theatrical poster for Gravity (2007). Credit: Warner Bros. The character escapes her problems on Earth and returns with a "renewed appreciation for life in all its forms, and for the planet, the water, air and soil that has nourished life."


65mins: Theatrical poster for Avatar (2009). Credit: 20th Century Fox. A film about "escaping the Earth for a better life." Unlike the previous two films, however, there is no return to Earth.


66mins 10 secs: theatrical poster for Interstellar (2014). Credit: Paramount and Warner Bros. Another film where characters escape our planet for a better life (and do indeed find a better life). "One might think" said Peter, "that both Avatar and Interstellar have happy endings. But this impression can only be sustained if, much like the protagonists, we forget about life on Earth in these two films."

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70mins: Final shot of Avatar (2009). Credit: 20th Century Fox. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) "turns to look straight at the camera and us, much like the star child does at the end of 2001."

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70mins 30 secs: Final shot from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Credit 20th Century Fox. Peter concluded his talk reflecting on those "two final looks at the camera" in Avatar and 2001, suggesting that they "would seem to convey a message: It’s your turn now. What are you going to do? Right now, right here, on this Earth!."

Friday December 9, 2022

Public Talk

Analysis of the Blue Marble Photograph by Climate Scientist Nick Pepin (Reader in Climate Science, University of Portsmouth)

Nick Pepin provided a close, engaging analysis of the Blue Marble from the point of view of a climate scientist. Nick identified various elements of the photograph and explained their implications for the Earth's weather and climate. Weather events such as the tropical cyclone in the Bay of Bengal (seen in the top right of the image), caused by "the heating of the sun going into the ocean...and the ocean providing the energy for the storm" caused in the region of 80 deaths in India a couple of days before the Blue Marble was taken. Nick highlighted the distinction between the centre of Africa, defined by a dark green colour and and North and South Africa, and explained reasons for these visible differences (listen from 3mins 30 secs for a full discussion). He provided scientific background for the "menacing" looking clouds at the bottom of the image (listen from 5mins) and their evidence of "extra-tropical storms." Nick concluded his talk raising important points on Antarctica (seen at the bottom of the image) and how, by comparing this photograph with more recent "Blue Marble" images, evidence of climate change over the past fifty years becomes increasingly apparent. Nick also introduces our next speaker Tim Lenton (9mins 50 secs). Click this link to read Nick's comparative analysis of 1972 and 2022 Whole Earth photographs. Below you will find a version of the 1972 Blue Marble that can be magnified and viewed along with Nick's talk. 


Public Talk

Gaia as Seen from Above and Within (Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute and Chair in Climate Change and Earth Systems Science, University of Exeter).

Tim Lenton gave an enthralling final talk of the events, one which focused on the historical development and continued resonance of the Gaia theory and Earth System Science. Tim moved between biographical and autobiographical content - a detailed background to James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory, as well as reflection on Tim's own subsequent Gaia-inspired contributions to the field  - historical background to Earth System Science, elaboration of scientific ideas, and philosophical reflection on humanity's future on the Earth. The talk began with an introduction to Lovelock and the development of his scientific thinking in the postwar era. We learnt that the Gaia theory was well in development by the time the Blue Marble photograph was taken. Tim presented a striking range of primary documents that detailed Lovelock's work in the 1960s and 1970s, including research he undertook while at NASA, prophetic warnings in the 60s of human-instigated environmental catastrophe, and correspondences with scientist and collaborator on the Gaia theory Lynn Margulis. The talk then covered Gaia's impact on the development of Earth System Science, where Tim reflected on his own work and career. Importantly, and as Tim's collaborations with the philosopher Bruno Latour have emphasised, the talk encouraged us to view Gaia from "within" as well as "above." In other words, the theory might be known for its "top down" view of the Earth as a singular, interconnected, self-regulating system (and so often visualised by way of the Blue Marble and similar imagery). But Gaia can also be thought about from the bottom up, in relation to individual humans and all of our potential to "self regulate" and contribute to our planet's future.  In the "Further Resources" section, you can find links to more of Tim's writing, including his influential book Revolutions That Made the Earth

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