Mark Dow  
Sun, Mar 15, 2009
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Alan Bean's photos and painting of "Conrad with Hand Tool Carrier"
"If the engine doesn't work, we'll just be a permanent monument to the space program." — Pete Conrad speaking to copilot Alan Bean just prior to liftoff from the lunar surface during Apollo 12

(stereo pair, cross-view)

I started fixing up a nice stereo pair that Alan Bean took during Apollo 12. The photos/scans are good quality, but there is an uneven flair in both photos that is difficult to remove properly. I like the composition, a wide open plain in the background with unusual geological detail (a tiny crater, not unusual on the moon but very unusual on earth) in the midground and suface dust and rocks in the foreground that look great in stereo.

What did Alan Bean see?

In reading about the history of the photo I found that Alan Bean, in 1981 after quitting his astronaut gig, turned to painting what he remembered of the moon using the mission's photographs for reference. Just a few years ago, in 2006, he painted a scene based on this photo. It's interesting to compare his painting with his photo.

Comparison of the AS12-49-7318 photo and Al Bean's painting "AstroOptiMax" (inset).

The most striking difference is the cropping of the scene in such a way to emphasize the astronaut, minimizing the astonishing fact that they were tiny and alone on a vast landscape. The hand of man is literally and figuratively at the center of the painting. Even the reflection of himself, in Conrad's visor, is relatively enlarged, though the scale of other features are well proportioned. He raised Conrad relative to the horizon, as if it was shot from a lower vantage point. And he leveled the horizon, as if they were on a flat plain, while the photo shows that they are on a large even slope — unless Conrad and the photographer Bean had a significant list in low gravity.

Comparison of photo and painting helmet detail. The painting's photo has been roughly coregistered and linearly warped (with shear) to match the photo, based on ~10 visually corresponding control points.

I wonder if the gold reflective coating on the visors resulted in an apparent blue cast to the astronaut's visual impression. Most of Bean's paintings use a palette skewed toward blues.

More info about the photos and painting.

From a short (3:06) interview of Alan Bean about his motivation for painting space program themes, and the role of humans in space exploration:

"The human spirit is the most important element in all exploration."

Sun, Mar 15, 2009  Permanent link

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