Helen McGhie

Helen McGhie

Stargazing at the ‘Invisible’: Photography and the Power of Obscured Light - A Research Partnership with Kielder Observatory

Though methods of fine-art photography and with reference to ‘feminist science’ theory, my work is exploring the cultural connectedness of astronomy and photography though the experience of darkness at Kielder Observatory (KOAS). Funded by the National Productivity Investment Fund (AHRC), my collaborative research project is designed to enhance the cultural capital of KOAS as a public-outreach science organisation in the world’s third largest protected Dark Sky reserve, located in Northumbria, UK.

I am interested in radically re-examining the visual clichés in existing Astrophotography and cultural images of space (i.e. vivid colours in sublime darkness) through photography that does not merely illustrate, but rather engages with the “[…] technological, biological, cultural, social and political flows of data that produce photographic objects”, as described by Zylinska (2016, p. 11) – this involves testing an alternative, imaginative experience of dark skies through photography. Through a series of engagements with KOAS’s staff, volunteers and visitors, I have so far produced a number of photographic portraits and still lives inspired by conversations with amateur astronomers.


Kuc, K. (ed.) and Zylinska, J. (ed.) (2016) Photomediations: A Reader. Open Humanities Press.  

Research Blog: https://www.invisiblestargazing.wordpress.com

Photography at Sunderland: http://www.photography-at-sunderland.co.uk


Helen McGhie (b.1987) is a visual artist based in Manchester (UK) with an interest in the empirical nature of darkness. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2014 where she explored the relationship between the archetype of the monstrous-female, interiority and the photographic gaze.

Her awards include: Winner, Format Festival’s International Portfolio Reviewers Choice Award (2018), AHRC / National Productivity Investment Fund PhD Studentship (2017), Nominated, Magnum Graduate Award (2015, 2017). Selected exhibitions: ‘209 Women’, Portcullis House (London, 2018-19), ‘<The Scrap>’, Culture Station Seoul (Seoul, 2018), ‘And Again’ (Sluice_), Brooklyn Fire Proof (New York, 2016) and ‘Hello Future! Talent’s Archive’, Onassis Cultural Centre (Athens, 2015). Selected publications: ‘Madam and Eve: Women Portraying Women’ (by Liz Rideal & Kathleen Soriano), Laurence King Publishing, ‘Graphic Design School’, Thames and Hudson (2017) and ‘Science and Fiction’, Black Dog Publishing (2014).