Rochon, L., 2010. Mission Control exposed! Unique vision of Mission Control through the lens of photographer Thomas Kellner. In: Roundup. Pictures in time, May 2010, pp. 6-7.
Mission Control exposed!
Unique vision of Mission Control through the lens of photographer Thomas Kellner by Laura Rochon
The beauty of photography is the ability to preserve for the ages a captured moment in time that will never be exactly the same. And never is an image seen precisely the same by an individual, but rather, is seen through their own perspective.
For German author and artist Thomas Kellner, visual knowledge is at the forefront of his photography. His work is recognized by mosaic-like composites of world-renowned structures, iconic architectures and notable interiors, often filming landmarks and “situations that many people have seen in movies and on the Web, but perhaps never seen in person in their lifetime,” Kellner said.
So, when he photographed at the historic Apollo and Shuttle Flight Control Rooms in March, it was an eight-year-in-the-making “dream come true,” which began with a trip sponsored by FotoFest Houston. He is invited back annually, not only as a photographer but also as a consultant to other photographers, “sharing my experience to help them with their emerging careers,” Kellner said.
“NASA is a big visual producer of images we all grew up with—the rockets, the shuttle, the space station—pictures from space; pictures of Earth … I want to give the images NASA puts into our world artistic comment,” Kellner said.
Among the landmarks he has shot are the Lincoln Memorial, London Bridge, Roman Forum, Times Square and the Manhattan skyline. Most impressive to him were the Golden Gate Bridge, the awe-inspiringStonehenge—one of the oldest known places of architecture—and the birthplace of English photographer Henry Fox Talbot, credited as the inventor of photography. (Talbot’s image of a latticed window in 1835 is the oldest negative in existence.) Most challenging was the Great Wall of China, where Kellner had to climb high enough to get the precise image.
Kellner works primarily with 35mm film, a material he says children today will not grow up with but significantly made mass photography possible.
“Without 35mm film, you can’t explain Hollywood and the movie industry,” Kellner said. “My intention was to bring the material itself into the image, as in a painting, where you see the stroke of the brush and the pigment on the canvas.”
His innovative, intricate technique involves shooting frame by frame, with each image having its own requirements, special arrangements and shapes.
“To do that—to construct an image out of single pieces—I have to do a sketch, frame it, plan it, write a storyboard for each single step, working in a virtual grid where I can shoot a single frame following a sequence,” Kellner said.
“After processing the film on contact sheets, I don’t cut it into pieces—the final image is not a collage—it's a photomontage.”
(A joining of multiple photographs into a single composite.) The film remains in its original size, but the final height and length is defined by the number of individual frames combined to form one image. Kellner is wary of rigid labels regarding his work. “Many people call my work 'deconstructive' (breaking up an object and putting it back together differently), but there are theories of deconstructivism and they might be right or wrong," he laughed.
“It’s really complicated—name something without using existing definitions,” Kelner said as he compares this process to Cubism in fine art—a movement pioneered by Pablo Picasso—where artwork is broken up and re-assembled in abstract form.
“I really wanted to create something difficult and different from point-and-shoot photography,” Kellner said. “If you read the images,you find they are all shot in sequence. It shows the process, including my thought process. This leaves the viewer free to interpret the new photographic object.”
The optical illusion is the appearance that photos have been shaken, or sometimes just stirred, depending on the level Kellner wants to distort them. His photographs seem to have movement through the fragmenting of the whole. They are always eye-catching, and sometimes provocatively so.
Kellner credits Robert Delaunay, a French painter famous for his use of Orphism—similar to abstract Cubism—as another influence. He also draws great inspiration from what he calls the “American mentality.”
“When I came to America in 2002, this feeling of, ‘If you want it, you can do it!’ The encouraging atmosphere…it is really fantastic,” Kellner said. He says it’s difficult to survive as an artist in Europe and work across borders, continents and oceans. “Life isn’t so easy as an artist,” Kellner said. “But, it is possible.And America made me believe that.” Not that Kellner hasn't seen great success. He has won numerous prestigious awards, and his work is featured in museums, exhibits, galleries and collections all around the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
Kellner’s Mission Control work will take several weeks to complete, but the artist hopes to return to Houston for a special exhibit for the Johnson Space Center community. And he’s not done fulfilling his dream with NASA just yet. He has witnessed two launches at Kennedy Space Center, an experience he described as “unbelievable—I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so majestic—the technology of it.”
The ignition on the launch pad lit a spark within him to set his sights on a return to the Cape—but next time to photograph the shuttle on the pad. If you're going to dream—dream big. “The picture I would love to do the most with NASA is really impossible—to shoot Earth from the ISS,” Kellner joked.
But anything’s possible in America.