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MS Mae Jemison in Spacelab-Japan: a Work Portrait

Work Portrait: Mission Specialist Mae Jemison in Spacelab-Japan

In 1992, Mission Specialist Mae Jemison flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space.

Photographic documentation of Mission Specialist MS Mae Jemison near Rack 1 in Spacelab-Japan SL-J
In 1992, Mae Jemison flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space. Photograph from the National Archives.

In this series we introduce an interesting photo, talk about why it works, and take a look at the context behind the creation.

It’s Black History Month—African-American History Month in the
United States—and we’re celebrating. For the rest of the month we’re
introducing public archives and image libraries with collections
relating to African Americans and people of African descent.

This photograph is from the National Archives in the United States. For more, see their African American Heritage portal: “the Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American
experience, and highlights these resources online”, including guides to records relating to African Americans at the archives, a black power portal, a history hub, and a helpful list of related resources at other institutions. I also suggest their blog, Rediscovering Black History.

Regarding This Picture

What do we see? I see a work portrait: Spacewoman in action.

A flash on the camera casts sharp shadow. We’re in the shuttle payload bay, looking into a corner. As a portrait this photo breaks lots of “rules”: arm cropped, foot cropped, off-kilter camera angle. It’s the weightlessness. She’s in space, body extending outside our frame. Headset strapped on. Floating.

It’s an immersive scene, simple but detailed, with rivets and do-dads everywhere. I love the intense colour dynamic between the bright yellow safety rails and blue space suit (a colour-combo repeated in the details), with a little flash of red on the boot, the high-saturation elements offset by drab grey on everything else.

Keep Reading the Pictures

Want to learn more about how to read photographs? Check out How to Read a Photograph, and the other instalments in our series: