Alum reveals ‘What’s Out There’

The “race-for-space” captivated Michael Soluri ’72 (M.F.A, photography) as a youngster growing up in Niagara Falls, N.Y. During his student days at State University of New York at Brockport (B.S. economics/art), Soluri’s interest was further piqued as a lab assistant at Eastman Kodak Co., which brought him into contact with NASA images sent back from the moon. Before graduating from RIT, he documented the launch activities of Apollo 16 at the Kennedy Space Center.

But for the next quarter century, his work in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Paris, Milan and New York City revolved around fashion, travel and corporate assignments. He also worked as an assistant professor of photography at RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.

In recent years, Soluri, based in New York City since 1986, was lured back into the photography of space exploration as a photo editor for specific space-themed issues of Kids Discover magazine. As a result of that evolving interest, Soluri co-authored What’s Out There: Images from Here to the Edge of the Universe (Duncan Baird Publishers, London, 2005). Currently in nine languages, the book was written by Loralee Nolletti (Soluri’s wife).

“I’ve come full circle,” says Soluri. “I’ve re-entered a unique environment of astronomy and space exploration that makes me both curious and happy to be in.”
Reviews from national media like Newsweek, GQ, Discover, American Photographer, Photo District News, Sky and Telescope and SPACE.Com have praised the book for its breathtaking imagery and solid, accessible science.

Soluri researched 15,000 images to select the 212 in the book, always seeking photos that were both aesthetically insightful and scientifically relevant. They came from a variety of Earth-based observatories, robotic space probes and human space missions. He also included the work of advanced astro-photographers from the U.S. and Europe. With assistance from senior astronomers at the Vatican Observatory, Soluri was also able to secure esteemed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to write the book’s foreword.

“WOT is very international in scope,” says Soluri, “and that’s symbolic, because there are no borders in space. I think these images give us a broader view of the scale and fragility of our own planet. For me, it’s about awe and wonder as it is about time and scale. That’s what made authoring this book such a fantastic journey.”

As a result of intensive communication with astronomers and scientists while editing WOT, Soluri became interested in portraying the people behind the scenes of space exploration. With access from NASA, he photographed the scientists and engineers building NASA’s New Horizons probe launched in January to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Some of those photographs appeared in an exclusive eight-page story in the March 2006 issue of Discover magazine. What’s Out There has also propelled Soluri into the public with presentations at the Smithsonian Institute and the National Science Foundation.

“Up close, spacecraft are amazingly beautiful objects of engineering design – they’re unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of sculpture,” says Soluri. But he’s come to a deep appreciation that the exploration of space goes beyond awesome technology. Soluri is compelled to photograph the workers involved in space. “I’m fascinated with the people who both create the tools of space exploration and learn from the results they provide.”

For more information about Soluri’s work, visit michaelsoluri.com.

The University Magazine, Fall 2006