Astronaut Scott Kelly Takes the Long View

Plenty has been written about the deleterious effects of social media. On the flipside, we have astronaut Scott Kelly’s #YearInSpace—which is among the most positive, and certainly the most wondrous, Twitter campaigns imaginable.

Beginning in March 2015, Kelly and fellow Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko blasted off from a launch site in Kazakhstan for what would be a record-setting mission for the longest time in space—340 days at the International Space Station, and 520 days overall. All the while, Kelly documented this historic journey visually, with a top-of-the-line Nikon D4 camera, and dispatched stunning image after stunning image to the Twittersphere. It was Earth as we’d never seen it before, because nobody had ever looked down on it for so long.

Three years after Kelly’s successful touch-down in 2016, the Palm Beach Photographic Centre in downtown West Palm Beach has compiled highlights, lovingly blown-up and curated alongside copious information about this landmark excursion.

When you visit the free exhibition, which is titled “Space Odyssey 2019,” you may notice how extraterrestrial this planet looks from the perspective of 250 miles above the Earth. Kelly’s image of a frozen lake in the Himalayas looks like an alien vista from a plausible science-fiction film—likewise the cosmic light show of the aurora borealis, radiating its surreal flourishes of green and purple.

Kelly even created a sub-category of orbital missives he called “Earth Art” for their similarities to abstract paintings. One close-up of rippling blue-green water resembles a close-up of a rumpled curtain or bed sheet, and the Australian Outback, with its smudges of burnt sienna, could be a chalk artist’s work in progress. Even cityscapes familiar from traditional aerial photography appear transformed under Kelly’s lens: New York City is a water-bisected array of microprocessors, while Shanghai is a gridlike series of tendons and sinews, each aglow like a fading ember. It’s pure poetry.

Then there’s the meteorological phenomena Kelly happened to capture from his unprecedented vantage. Remember the notorious polar vortex of 2016? Here it is, looking like an encroaching army of powdery ice gradually blanketing the planet. Hurricane Patricia is a mass of white swirling around her central eye, as beautiful as she is monstrous.

The exhibition includes plenty of shots of Kelly himself—snapping a selfie with the Bahamas visible through a cupola window, hovering horizontally on a spacewalk, juggling the contents of a delivery of fresh produce, the oranges and lemons dancing in zero gravity. He subtitled this one, in part, “the fruits of my labor.”

The fact that Kelly had a sense of humor and a proficiency with Twitter helped make him one of the platform’s viral success stories in 2015/2016. More importantly, though, “Space Odyssey 2019” reveals him to be a superb photographer who was able, from his unique perch, to perceive our world in a new light.

See it in the gallery, where it belongs. These images may have originated on Twitter, but your iPhone screen hardly does them justice.

“Space Odyssey 2019” runs through Aug. 3 at Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 415 N. Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Admission is free. For information, call 561/233-2600 or visit workshop.org.