Mr. Martin-Malburet has written an introduction to the sale, reproduced here.
This year sees the fiftieth anniversary of manned space flight. On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin's Vostock spacecraft orbited the Earth for the first time and three weeks later Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 became America's first man in space. Within little more than a decade NASA had met President Kennedy's challenge and landed not one but twelve men on the Moon and returned them all safely to the Earth. The remarkable photographs collected by Victor Martin-Malburet and presented here provide dramatic visual evidence of the extraordinary achievements of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes.
In recent years the collector has done much to increase awareness of this half-forgotten photographic heritage. The present collection has been exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris and at the Museé d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Metropole. The following introduction first appeared in expanded form in the 2009 catalogue of the latter exhibition.
As an avid reader of Jules Verne since I was a child, I had a real fascination with explorers and adventurers. My taste for science led me to become an engineer although my father was a collector of twentieth century avant-garde artworks. Even so, I was keen to follow in his footsteps and when I first came across a group of rare vintage NASA photographs I knew that I too had become a collector. I realised that these images had a real magic to them, a poetic dimension in addition to their historical, political and scientific value. Steven Dick, chief historian of NASA, sums it up succinctly: "The astronauts brought back two treasures from their extraordinary journey: samples of moon rock and their photographs." Here was a magnificent field of investigation midway between science and art. Art, without doubt, because even if the astronauts did not always have creative intent, they felt and conveyed powerful emotions as they took their photographs. They project us into another world with an invitation to dream and reflect.
Passionately, I devoted myself to researching these photographs, initially to discover the criteria for identifying a true vintage print, one printed at the time of the event depicted. I discovered that the subject is strewn with pitfalls for the unwary, and learned to reject the lithographed reproductions and reprints with their later logos and photographic "watermarks". As a general rule, vintage NASA photographs were printed on fibre-based photographic paper, 20x25 cm (8x10 in), their backs usually printed in purple ink with the NASA logo, the issuing centre, the identification number (mission-film magazine-frame), the date the picture was taken and an explanatory caption. But there are many exceptions. Colour (chromogenic) prints on heavier weight paper were commonly blank on the back as were certain print runs made for internal use or for the agency's subcontracting firms. Much rarer are the vintage large-format photographs specially printed for scientists or for presentation to visiting dignitaries.
After each mission, NASA produced master duplicates of all negatives and the originals were locked away in a cold store. From these master duplicates photographs were printed and distributed for the use of NASA's own scientists and for public relations. In later years NASA itself destroyed many of these original prints as they were archived on the internet, and vintage prints, the 'Holy Grail' for any collector, have become increasingly hard to find. My search took me to the United States where I had a contact who used to work at NASA's Pasadena facility, and through his introductions I met several collectors who enabled me to expand my own collection until it eventually included every mission and every classic photograph.
The earliest missions were hardly photographed at all. The first two American astronauts, Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom, went into space without a camera. The third, John Glenn, bought a 35mm camera and persuaded engineers to modify it for use with his bulky pressurised spacesuit so that he could record the first Earth orbital flight from the Cape. NASA was slow to realise the importance of photography both for documentation and for publicity. The watershed came in June 1965 with Jim McDivitt's stunning colour photographs of his partner Ed White floating freely in space above the Earth. These images captured the world's imagination and marked a turning point in the role played by space photography and in the popular view of manned space exploration. Three years later, on Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first men to see the Earth rise above the lunar horizon and captured a magical image which changed Man's relationship with the cosmos. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent only 150 minutes on the Moon, watched live on television by half a billion people, but brought back to Earth astonishing images seen by even more.
I admit to having a soft spot for the views of planet Earth which to date only the twenty-four astronauts of Apollo missions 8 and 10 to 17 have been able to wonder at. I imagine myself in the position of that modern-day explorer James Lovell who made the trip to the Moon twice, on Apollo 8 and 13. On first observing that the Earth looked as big as his thumb, he voiced his thoughts to Michael Collins at Mission Control: "Mike, what I keep imagining is, if I'm some lonely traveller from another planet, what I think about the Earth at this altitude, whether I think it'd be inhabited or not?"