Sotheby’s Launches Its First Space Photography Sale, Offering Up Spooky Snapshots of UFOs Alongside Photos of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

The auction includes dramatic images of NASA missions, as well as an eerie photo once used to promote 'The X-Files.'

Buzz Aldrin at Tranquility Base. Vintage NASA "Red Number" Photograph, 20 July 1969. Courtesy Sotheby's.

From botched plans to storm Area 51 to the $1.8 million purchase of a bag laced with moon dust, space is all the rage right now. So it makes sense that on November 26 through December 2, Sotheby’s is holding its first auction focused specifically on Space Photography, presenting a series of images that capture the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969. The online sale is the auction house’s second this year dedicated to intergalactic exploration, in an ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

The available works span nearly a century of documentation through 1990, with a focus on space photography as seen through a NASA lens. the majority of the sale is drawn from the holdings of the collector Philip Kulpa, including 140 “Red Number” images—referring to official prints labeled with ‘NASA,’ plus the mission name or number, in red ink. (Estimates for various works in this series, including a shot of the debut footprint on the moon, range from $3,000-$5,000.) Additional photographs originate from the Estate of Bill Taub, NASA’s first senior photographer, who captured all significant NASA events, from Project Mercury through the end of Apollo.

For those into the weird and eerie, Sotheby’s is offering a series by “Billy” Eduard Albert Meier, who asserts that in 1942, at the age of five, he began a lifelong exchange with extraplanetary figures, photographing their UFOs throughout their ongoing relationship. Meier’s images have since gained widespread recognition; one of the available photographs in particular, estimated at $6,000 to $9,000, was featured in promotional materials for the cult-classic television series The X-Files.

Vintage Color Photograph of Wally Schirra Taken by NASA Senior Photographer Bill Taub, ca. December 1965. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

The space photography sale follows Sotheby’s auction earlier this year dedicated to space exploration, which fetched $5.5 million. Objects and ephemera that hit the block included a rocket model inscribed by various astronauts, which sold for $68,750; a mock-up A7L Spacesuit from 1969, outfitted with the iconic Bubble Helmet, boots, and gloves, that garnered $30,000; and a first-edition Apollo mission program signed by 25 astronauts and NASA staffers, which yielded $27,500.

“Collectors have actually been interested in space photography for a long time,” Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s senior specialist, told Artnet News. “Of course, this year being the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, there has definitely been increased interest in the subject matter, but honestly, this has been a gradual, rather than sudden increase.”

“There is great variety in the types of buyers for this type of material, with both private collectors and institutions interested,” she continued. “The cross-over appeal is tremendous, and we see buyers who focus on a number of different categories, including photography in general,  space exploration, the history of science, astronomy, and even collectors of contemporary art. The fascination with what lies beyond the bounds of our planet, and with those who worked so hard to escape those bonds, is universal.”


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