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“It’s Saturday night. You’ve worked hard all day and you’ve got a Saturday night off in space. What would you do with a Saturday night in space when you could look out the windows and see this kind of stuff?”

University Gallery has a great new exhibition, Portraits of a Planet: Photographer in Space, that’ll take you on a journey out of this world. In short, the exhibition is created by Donald Pettit, a NASA astronaut who spent over a year in space capturing over 500,000 photographs of the Earth, using both long exposure photographs and split second timing, creating a really cool and unique look at our planet. In his opening remarks, Pettit said, “The first time I walked in here was this morning and it’s like wow this is the next best thing to being on the space stations and looking out the windows and looking at these shots”. This exhibition may appeal to a lot of RIT students; to pull off a photography project in space, Pettit had to have expertise in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. The Exhibition Executive Director urges viewers to “imagine yourself in zero gravity, and consider our place in the universe”. Although the opening ceremony has already passed, Behind the Bricks was there to get the inside scoop.

Who is Donald Pettit?

Pettit started playing with photography in the sixth grade, and he originally used a Kodak Brownie. He would spend all his allowance money on photography, it was just something he loved to do. Pettit said, “I always wanted to have photography document what I was doing.”

He graduated with a chemical engineering degree, and eventually landed a job in the NASA astronaut program. As Pettit began to tell the audience what he did in space as an astronaut, he joked as he told an old saying “Always be yourself unless of course you’re an astronaut, then be an astronaut. And so on the space station I did whatever astronauts do which is we worked the mission”. The mission he refers to is his scientific project he worked on for NASA. His full time job is being an astronaut, and having the ability to perform his hobby of photography in space is just a perk. During his time in space, he would work 12 hour days, from 7am to 7pm. He worked on the fixing and repairing their station and the mission. The mission included a lot of scientific and engineering research. However, the 500,000 photographs he took weren’t part of his job description. “All of these pictures were taken on off duty time when I wasn’t working on a NASA project, simply because I was there and I could and I was interested in taking these pictures”. He was really passionate about the project, and hopes the viewer sees these as “just an expression of natural art”.  

Pettit’s Top Picks

“I’ve done all the image processing for these pictures” The pictures in his exhibit are in the public domain. Pettit mentioned that you could get them from NASA, but they may look different than appeared. He did all the image processing on these pictures, and did them to his taste as a photographer, but he did assure that the colors and shapes you see are what “the real environment” showed.

An audience member asked what his favorite picture was. Because each picture tells a different story, he had trouble picking just one; but, he said he really liked the Ghost Panel. He is a big fan of the time exposures and the star trails they captured.

An Alien’s View of the Exhibition

I originally walked in the exhibition without much knowledge about the project; however, it made the experience even more interesting. Even though I was an alien, an outsider, it intrigued me even more. The second you walk in the door, you’ll feel like you have been launched into space.

There were a lot of people at the opening event; if the exhibition goers weren’t socializing or discussing the photographs, they were staring at the pieces of work in awe. Some of the photographs at the exhibit are smaller and some are massive, but even the small ones convey they enormity of space.

Some of the photographs surprised me: they aren’t typical pictures of space. The colors are extremely vibrant and unexpected, but Pettit ensured the viewers that the colors we are seeing are close to the real sight. You’ll see photographs of different planets, comets, the space station, and anything else you’d expect in space. My personal favorite photos were the ones of specific cities all lit up at night. It was a unique view of something so close to us. The space of the exhibit is wide open, with giant photographs lining the walls. I think it might be cool to go back to the exhibit at a time without a lot of people. It seemed like a big event at the opening, but these pictures really put how small we actually are in perspective to the universe. I truly haven’t seen photos of space like this before, and definitely encourage anyone to go check it out.


University Gallery is open Monday-Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm and Saturday 12:00pm – 4:00pm. The last day of the exhibit is Saturday, April 28. For more information about the exhibit, check out the RIT University Gallery Exhibition page. Head on over to University Gallery to check out an out of this world exhibit and escape from reality (and homework).


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