Warning: may contain artificial colours

22 Apr

An interesting comparison:

“There’s a lot of translation that occurs between the data the Hubble collects and the final images that are shared with the public,” Kessler says. Translating raw data into the “pretty pictures” that have become a staple of newspaper front pages requires careful image processing. Astronomers and image specialists strive for realistic representations of the cosmos, yet they make subjective choices regarding contrast, composition and color.


The interpretation often chosen, Kessler says, is one that suggests buttes, cliffs and erosion. Some look strikingly like pictures from Yellowstone National Park, or paintings of the old West by Albert Bierstadt or Thomas Moran, placing the Hubble images solidly in the romantic landscape tradition.

“Just like Bierstadt’s or Moran’s paintings, the hope here is that the final image will capture the feeling of awe and majesty and wonder about nature,” Kessler says.

Jennifer Carnig discussing the work of Elizabeth Kessler in the University of Chicago Chronicle.


The question of pseudo-colouring in biomedicine and its use for science communicative purposes, is a vast and complex subject. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured? Are there any colour conventions and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocoloured images have that ‘naturally’ coloured specimens don’t? See these examples of HIV imagery. How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?

Discussion of Luke Jerram’s Glass Microbiology project.


An attempt at illustration: a flickr gallery of artificial colouring in both astronomical and microbiological images.


A big tip of the hat for the first reference to Fiona Romeo, who also had the excellent suggestion of organising a combined exhibition of astronomical and biomedical photography.


One Response to “Warning: may contain artificial colours”

  1. Foe April 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    Oh, and Lynette Wallworth’s ‘Hold: Vessel’ is the BFI exhibition that I was trying to remember. It featured both microscopic marine life and telescopic astronomical imagery: http://www.forma.org.uk/artists/represented/lynette-wallworth/works-hold-vessel-1-and-2

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