Portraits of a Planet - Photographer in Space


Artist Link: Portraits of a Planet

Portraits of a Planet: Photographer in Space is the first gallery exhibition of Donald Pettit’s photographic journey. Captured during 370 days orbing our planet, his imagery ranges from single momentary captures of reflected light, to carefully timed once-in-a-lifetime sequences such as that of Venus traversing the Sun. Premiere exhibition of large-format photographic prints taken by American astronaut Donald Pettit from the International Space Station. Stunning views of cities at night, lightning sparking across night skies, aurora, and planetary phenomena captured with meticulous precision using time-lapse, long exposure, and split-second timing.

Video here

Donald R. Pettit is a NASA astronaut. He began his venture into photography in 1965 with a Kodak Brownie, and by 1975, had moved up to a Nikon F with a Photomic FTN Finder, documenting high-speed processes of breaking glass, bullets in motion, water droplets, and hummingbirds in flight using a Honeywell Strobe and a homemade sound-activated trigger. When the opportunity to fly in space became a reality in 2002, Pettit took every opportunity during his time off while on orbit to capture images. During three space flights he logged more than 372 days in space, and together with his crewmates, took nearly 600,000 images from orbit. He pioneered an orbital-optical tracking system for taking nighttime images of city lights, and was the first to develop techniques for capturing nighttime time-lapse orbital imagery. His breathtaking iconic time-lapse videos have been published worldwide.

Exhibition Executive Director, Peter A. Blacksberg:

"As photographers, we explore our lives through camera lenses to capture the unexpected, fathom the unexplored, see the unseen, and walk the edge between science and art.

In October of 2014, I approached astronaut Donald Pettit at Photo Expo in NYC. I said, 'It’s because of you, the dream is alive.'

I shared my deep appreciation for his dedication to research on the International Space Station which benefits all of us. In the months following, we began corresponding about the challenges of orbital photography, quickly jumping from lenses to cameras and sensors. We soon found we shared a mutual desire to explore and inspire others. We both saw a continuum from art to science to engineering. In this blurred gradient, technology fuels opportunity, and preparation can yield results of stunning clarity and visceral beauty.

Don's photographs are selected from nearly 500,000 exposures, most of which were taken during his ‘off hours’. Several in this display are single frame long exposure sequences of daytime and nighttime passes over the planet. These iconic images are recognized worldwide for their stunning revelations of aurora, cities at night, lightning sparking across night skies and other planetary and atmospheric phenomena.

As a photographer, the possibility of bringing home to Earth awe-inspiring visions from space is reason enough to make the journey. Don Pettit has fulfilled, and is continuing to fulfill, this dream and mission as a photographer, astronaut, engineer, and inventor. Don has truly lived as a dedicated artist and educator, sharing what he has seen with everyone here on earth via the web, YouTube, and today in this exhibition.

As you experience these photographs, imagine yourself in zero gravity, and consider our place in the universe. Join Don Pettit to experience his views of the frontier of living for more than a year in space.

RIT is at the forefront in the intersection of science, technology, engineering, art and math. It was this ethos which drew me to RIT in 1970. They are the elements which Donald Pettit used to experience, capture and share these images with us." 

- Peter A. Blacksberg


Photographic image of earth taken from the International Space Station with star trails of color and an aura of light along the curvature.
Image of Space Station flying above a river of green aurora.

Green River, 2012. Space Station flying above a river of green aurora.

View from space of Ganges River Delta in near-infrared showing lush mangrove forests.

Comic Matisse, 2012. Ganges River Delta in near-infrared showing lush mangrove forests.

Earth horizon with sunrise, aurora, city lights, lightening, star trails, and spacecraft.

Techno-color, 2012. Earth horizon with sunrise, aurora, city lights, lightening, star trails, and spacecraft.

View of Earth from inside the space station cupola gridded windows. Black and white.

Black Marble, 2012. Mother Earth from the cupola.

View of a portion of the international space station and solar panels.

Truss, 2012. Space station truss with solar panels.

View of clustered tiny city lights on earth from space station with solid black sky.

Cities at Night: Spain, 2011.

View of hazy white cloud forms over the curvature of earth with from space station. Black sky.

Black Spot on Earth, 2012. Solar Eclipse, May 20, 2012. Moon shadow projected onto ocean clouds.

View of planet earth through round portal window on space station.

Porthole to Earth: Nighttime, 2012.

Human form in a puffy padded white space suit.

My Business Suit, 2011.

Blurred image of star trails in multi colors across a gentle arch of the earth's curvature highlighted with a green stripe.

Lightening Bugs, 2012. Flashing bolts of lightning under a green atmospheric glow.

Full view of gallery with large gathering of people looking at 30 foot photo murals mounted on the second level of the walls.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit speaks to audience.

Image of woman standing in gallery with two 30 foot photo murals mounted on the second level of the walls.

University Gallery Director Wendy Marks