EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Stargazing at the 'Invisible': Photography and the Power of Obscured Light – A Research Partnership with Kielder Observatory. 

Helen McGhie
Helen McGhie
  • Institute of Arts and Creative Industries, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, England (

I am a photographic artist, a PhD student and a Lecturer in Photography at the University of Sunderland. Through the still and moving image, my practice reimagines ubiquitous photography through new perspectives, engaged with place and encounter—in my practice-led PhD, I am exploring astronomy at Kielder Observatory, Northumberland, UK (KOAS). I propose a display of lens-based art (demonstrating methods), and a paper to provide context and discussion. This session is significant in engaging a 'global’ audience with creative perspectives from a ‘local’ observatory.

‘Stargazing at the ‘Invisible’: Photography and the Power of Obscured Light – A Research Partnership with Kielder Observatory’ explores how lens-based art can operate within and in response to an observatory in an International Dark Sky Park in Northern England, questioning:

  • what new encounters with dark skies emerge when a fine-art photographer works in partnership with an astronomy organisation?
  • can photography visualise the experience of dark sky observation in Northern England?
  • how can lens-based art communicate a speculative practice of astronomy?

Funded by the National Productivity Investment Fund (part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy, impacting industrial needs through researcher-industry partner collaborations), my project is designed to mutually benefit the photographic field and KOAS (supporting a new art programme), whilst offering a model for future art and ‘science outreach’ collaborations.

The multi-method work combines image-making, conversations, exhibitions and reflective practice. In addition, an extended artist residency and planned display of practice at KOAS (website, e-newsletters, site-specific contexts and pre-event film screenings) expand the potential for new photographic narratives on astronomy. An immersive encounter with the dark skies at Kielder is crucial to the work, departing from sublime starry-skies that usually illustrate astronomy.

A virtual photography exhibition and paper at EGU21 will introduce my current outcomes to STEM and creative colleagues, provoking dialogues on photography's ability to communicate complex ideas to non-specialist audiences. Concepts include speculative dark skies, encounter, and the perspective of looking from Northern England. 

'Dark Adaptation', 2019                                                                                                               SDSS plate, 2019

'Wanderers', 2017-19