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Photographer brings Kielder dark skies down to earth

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Published on 30 May 2022

'Another Dimension' by photographer Helen McGhie
'Another Dimension' by photographer Helen McGhie

Created by photographic artist Helen McGhie, and located on the Skyspace walking trail, the exhibition explores a night of winter stargazing at Kielder through portraits suspended between the trees. The portraits show stargazers, astronomy equipment and the environment.

Helen is Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Sunderland. The exhibition ‘Another Dimension’ is part of her PhD research, exploring how photographic art can create new ways to experience dark skies in northern England. The work is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s National Productivity Investment Fund.

Kielder Observatory in Northumberland International Dark Sky Park has the second-largest area (nearly 580 square miles) of protected night sky in Europe. The status was awarded by the International Dark Skies Association in 2013, the leading organisation working to combat light pollution worldwide.

Kielder Observatory estimate that 85% of the UK population have never witnessed a truly dark sky.

Helen said: “My photographs aim to bring a sense of the winter dark sky experience to the summer. I’m interested in those moments when our eyes adapt to night vision, which can feel a bit unsettling at first. I remember the first time I visited Kielder – I got out of my car, stretched out my arm and couldn’t see my hand! 

“Through this work I have tried to capture the imaginative experience of stargazing. I like to look up at the sky and imagine distant worlds, I sometimes wonder if there are others looking back at me from elsewhere in the universe. It’s fun to imagine that Earth might be a curious ‘other world’ that another planet may wish to discover.”

Catherine Johns, CEO Kielder Observatory, said: “Kielder Observatory has worked in partnership with Helen for several years and her uniquely creative art helps bring new audiences and new experiences to our dark skies and explores how they inspire us. We’re delighted to have a new exhibition on the walk to the observatory.”

Alex MacLennan, Recreation Public Affairs Manager, Northumberland Forestry England, added: "This project is another great example of how people engage with the dark skies of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park which was created in 2013. Nine years on we are thrilled to be working with Helen and University of Sunderland in a new way to engage and showcase Kielder. This project will be really popular with visitors walking or cycling up to Skyspace and onto Kielder Observatory."

A series of walking tours will be scheduled as part of the exhibition. There are 11 banners installed on part of the Skyspace walking trail (starting from Skyspace car park) in Kielder Forest. The walking tour launches for the bank holiday weekend (2 June) and the work is on show until the 30 September.

Helen is keen to hear what you think of the exhibition and welcomes comments through social media: @visitkielder #kielderdarkskies or contact Helen at helen.mcghie@sunderland.ac.uk.

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