By Myles Ludwig
The vivid colors of the cosmos are on display at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, which is currently exhibiting a wondrous series of pictures captured by retired astronaut Scott Kelly during his long sojourn in the International Space Station.
They are abstractions of course, shapes often as foreign as their hues. Because if people look like ants from a view from the top of the Empire State Building, as I recall from a visit as a child, then to the unknown photographer from space we probably look like bacteria.
The show, Space Odyssey 2019: Astronaut Scott Kelly’s Visual Voyage0, consists of 45 exquisite digital images shot by Kelly through a Nikon D4, according to Nikon. No easy task in zero gravity. The pictures were curated by Zuma Press CEO Scott McKiernan, who made a surprise earthly appearance at the show’s opening late last month garbed in an ersatz spacesuit he said had been made in China. The helmet was too small for him, but fit a child’s head.
Apparently, it’s impossible to take a bad picture in outer space. The digital, super-sharp images display an astonishing range of colors that resist easy description, even imagining. They offer a new kind of artist’s palette: eerie oranges, enveloping umbras and ochres, glowing blues and greens, shimmering aqua waves by the Bahamas and a view of the aurora borealis that is dreamlike. The colors of earth shine in jewel tones. A sunrise appears as a bold streak of red across the deeply black void of outer space so startlingly bright it looks like the beam of a laser or a cartoon speed line marking the departure of a character like Captain Marvel.
Of course, the sensational photography was incidental to the research purpose of Kelly’s fight. The scientific purpose was to learn about the physiological effects of long periods in space. Kelly’s twin brother, Mark, remained on earth for comparison. But one of the astronaut’s proudest achievements was as a gardener, growing a zinnia inside the space station.
The show was mounted by Fatima and Art NeJame and printed in luxuriously large format at the Photographic Centre’s studios and accompanied by a sumptuous table of cheeses, grapes, hummus, tapenades, brownies and chocolates at the opening. More of Kelly’s images may be seen in his book, Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space.
Hard to believe that only a half-a century ago, mankind “slipped the surly bonds of earth / And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings” as John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote in his poem “High Flight,” launching, as Hannah Arendt wrote in the prologue to her seminal work The Human Condition, the origins of the “modern world alienation” by its “twofold flight from the earth into the universe and from the world into the self … Mankind will not remain earthbound forever.”
SPACE ODYSSEY 2019 is showing at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 415 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, through Aug. 3. Hours are 10 am to 6 pm Monday through Thursday, 10 am to 5 pm Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 253-2600 or visit workshop.org.