The Sunday Times Magazine x Apollo 11

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After last week’s enjoyable EDO evening with Fernando Gutierrez, there was a magazine auction where amongst other gems I picked up a consecutive run of three 1969 editions of The Sunday Times Magazine. They covered the big story of the day – the Apollo moon landings.

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Think about that… this isn’t a piece of additional reporting, a round-up of the best photography or a souvenir special. These three magazines told the story, week-by-week, of the time men first stood on the moon. No website, no twitter no email. This was as speedy as it got.

The dailies had carried black and white imagery; the only step between that and a full book of images was the weekly colour magazine. As the first cover (above) makes clear, these would have been the first significant set of colour images the British public would have seen, this first of the issues appearing seven days after the landing took place, and three days after the men had arrived back on Earth.

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Even then, the majority of the pictures in the first magazine (published Sunday 27 July 1969) are of the take-off, including this night shot by STMag art director David King (above) who must have travelled to Houston to watch preparations and lift-off.

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Lift off took place the following day, and the magazine relies on spectacular NASA close ups of the rocket and launch pad.

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But the first pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon are black and white shots from what appears to be a TV screen. Or perhaps sent direct from the moon by radio? Remember, this is already three days after the team had returned home.

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A week later, colour images from the moon have been processed, remarkable if very familiar today.

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Most of the pictures are pretty monochrome, so much so that the magazine drops in a later shot of US President Nixon welcoming the quarantined astronauts back (above) to add colour and personality.

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The space shots all seem to have been taken from inside the lunar module – shadowy shots of the surface and Neil Armstong stepping onto it (above).

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By the time of the third Sunday, the magazine has better moon images. Published on Sunday 10 August, this is over two weeks since the astronauts arrived back. I’m not sure what delayed these improved colour pictures – did they need to be quarantined too? – but here we see the iconic set of images: the shiny silver and gold foil of the lunar landing module, the astronaut’s white suits and helmet reflections and the US flag being held up as if blowing in the non-existant wind.

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And here is the moment of their return, the command module floating in the ocean and the men in their quarantine as the newspaper gushingly describes one of our first glimpses of our planet from space.

The magazines hark back to a golden age of photo-reportage. It’s fascinating to look back and see how it was done then. I can only imagine the effort and resources that went in to achieving these three issues, yet the coverage totals only 30 pages including the front covers (I’ve included it all here; the magazines carried other stories too). A similar event today would be followed live online and an interested reader could soon count hundreds of images and comments. The immediacy would be impressive, but the ability to look back 46 years later less so.

Thanks to EDO for running the auction, and to Simon Esterson for donating the issues for sale.

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