German photographer Thomas Ruff had decided to blow up NASA images in a desperate attempt to get visitors to walk on Mars. But there was no need for those four meters high enlarged landscapes. The book that publisher Xavier Barral, now republished in small format, has just brought out manages the trick with its pages covering, in 6 kilometers sections, the immensity of a still imaginary world. It is riveting.
Like the shapes that we imagine into clouds, the temptation to anthropomorphize grows with every image. The granular craters depict the wrinkled skin of an elephant’s leg. An archipelago in the seas of black sand fissured like a burnt photograph reflects back the expression on our surprised face. For all the world, those might be molecules under a microscope. But we know that the photos are strictly on scale, that the paint-runs on these monochrome canvases are beds of lava that have thrown up solidified waves several meters high. We go with the flow of their abstraction. In the index at the end of the book, the 150 landscapes are reproduced as labels. They become motifs, an alphabet of signs, and one learns that there is a volcano, huge dunes and ravines at latitude — 48° and longitude 303.7°.
Mars explores the excesses of a subject. The title of astrophysicist Francis Rocard’s essay is “The Geology of Excess”. He gives shape to these landscapes in ordinary vocabulary. Mountains are erected. Craters form holes. Deserts crack. On the map, they are located on the Daedalia Planum, the plain named after Daedalus, the architect and sculptor of Greek mythology. The whole thing builds up gradually, with earthly references of a familiarity to fire the imagination. With a chronology of Mars observation going back to the classical era, the book manages to combine the history of mankind with that of Mars and, in so doing, to reveal the unknown.
Laurence Cornet is a journalist specializing in photography and independent exhibition curator. She splits her life between New York and Paris.
Mars, Une exploration photographique
Republished by Xavier Barral