Luscious Space Photos Made by Hacking an Old Scanner

Gallery ImageNot long ago, photographer Navid Baraty got the gig of a lifetime: The Wander space mission was putting a satellite into orbit to photograph never-before-seen expanses of outer reaches of the universe. The Wander team needed a photographer to process all the images, and because Baraty also had a degree in engineering, he got the job. The spacecraft beamed incredible sights back down to earth: galaxies of speckled gold-and-white stars, starry nebulae colorful enough to have been a Magritte painting, and marbled orbs of planets and moons.
Actually, none of that’s true.
Baraty staged this hoax as a test, to see if his photographs could pass as star clusters and celestial bodies. He actually creates these images by placing household items on an Epson scanner and leaving the lid open. That tiny hack—leaving the scanner’s lid up—creates the inky black backdrop we interpret as the sky, and helps to distort the items, making them look celestial.
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Nadiv Baraty
Those spackled galaxies are actually kitchen ingredients like olive oil, sesame oil, water, cumin, cinnamon, and flour, sprinkled across the scanner. The fuchsia nebulae are a mix of makeup, chalk, baby powder, and olive oil. And the golden planet is an illusion; Baraty creates it by placing a water glass on top of the scanner and filling it with colored liquid, like coconut milk and food coloring.
You could look at Baraty’s fictional space mission as photographic research. It’s amazing what the human eye will fall for given the right combination of context and mystery. (These lunar landscapes, actually made with baking flour on a table, are another great example.) You could imagine these kinds of household experiments informing animators or set designers looking to create new worlds on film. They’re fakes, but they might be all the more intriguing for it: If they’re not real, it’s the first time we’re seeing them. “I think the awe and wonder of space ignites our innate curiosity as humans,” Baraty says.

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