Happy Xmas 2018!


Earthrise

If you’re in my address book you receive each year an ‘Xmas Image’, chosen to reflect some important aspect of the year just passed.  Strange, then, that this year’s image is a photograph taken exactly 50 years ago – in fact on Christmas Eve 1968.

I believe it might well be the most influential photograph ever taken.  But why such a powerful impact?

Part of the answer is in its historical moment.  1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam war – and the realisation that despite its military might America was actually losing to local fighters with few resources; it was the year of the Prague Spring, when the people of Czechoslovakia asserted their human rights against the military might of the old Soviet Union; and in western Europe too student and worker protests brought France to the brink of revolution (the president was evacuated by helicopter from Paris to a French army base in Germany).  It was a time of turmoil – but also of tremendous optimism and hope that people acting together could really change the world for the better.

But the historical context is only part of this story: more important was people’s emotional response to the photograph - perhaps harder to recapture now.  Never before had anyone seen an ‘earthrise’ from behind another celestial body.  To see our own world in this way – as aliens might see it, a precious little ball of life in the dead vastness of space – was a deeply moving experience.  It gave extra impetus to youthful demand for a better future, evidenced at Woodstock the following year – but moreover, it led, I believe, directly to the modern environmental movement – driven originally not by the science of climate change, but the revelation that the earth really is a terribly fragile home.

I had this photograph on my bedroom wall as a teenager – I wonder if you agree that although it has undoubtedly lost some of its original power to shock, its deeper meaning is, if anything, even more relevant to the world of 2018 than it was in 1968?

Whatever your response – do have a great holiday!