After releasing the Photoshoot at the Edge of Space, I encountered an unexpected turn of events. Ordinarily, when I release images — be they of trains, cars, or athletes — I receive a smattering of emails and messages inquiring about the availability of prints for purchase. These queries typically come from fans, some devoted to specific race teams, others enamored with a particular athlete or train locomotive. However, the response to my Edge of Space series was unprecedented; I was inundated with requests, not just from individual enthusiasts, but also from esteemed museums.
This period was both exhilarating and daunting as the pieces destined for museum displays demanded a quality of print production. I was confident that, given the detail of the original files, achieving such a standard was within reach. Nevertheless, I approached the printing of these images with the utmost respect and caution, aiming to uphold the highest standard of quality.
Simultaneously, I was invited to speak at a national symposium for autism, an event organized by FirstPlace. This engagement would not only feature my photographic work but also include performances by violinist Laura Nadine and the Phoenix Symphony. An unexpected aspect of this engagement was the request to exhibit some of my train photography alongside the Edge of Space series. This included displaying the mission patch I had flown and the camera I had used to capture the series. While providing the camera and patch was a straightforward affair, producing the prints for the exhibition proved to be a significant challenge.
My journey in photography has always been supported by a close-knit group of friends who I trust implicitly for advice on camera equipment, lighting gear, and, pertinent to this situation, printing companies. Following a series of discussions with these trusted confidants, I found myself in contact with Jaron Schneider, the Editor in Chief at PetaPixel. We reviewed a number of companies known for their large-scale prints.
During our conversation, Jaron shared an image he had captured in San Francisco and subsequently had printed by WhiteWall. The print was impressive, boasting vibrant colors, striking contrast, sharp precision, and exquisite finishing. As we waxed poetic about the artwork, a nagging question lingered in my mind: What was the maximum size print they could produce?
Not long after, I was on a phone conference with WhiteWall, involving teams from both the United States and Germany. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and our discussion spanned a range of topics, from the nuances of the image itself to the intricacies of the printing process, including the method, mounting, finishing, and even the packaging necessary for the exhibition’s opening. The project presented a unique challenge: we aimed to create a print that was not only of an unconventional size but also one that incorporated a blend of techniques within WhiteWall’s extensive capabilities.
Given that the photo captured the curvature of the Earth, it was crucial that the blacks in the image be dynamically rendered, as space, void of color, occupied a substantial portion of the frame. Adding to the complexity, the gallery opening of my exhibit was just weeks away, necessitating a swift shipment of the final piece from WhiteWall’s factory in Germany.
In the ensuing weeks, through numerous phone calls and collaborative discussions, WhiteWall and I devised a detailed approach for the print. Our original plan was to produce a 112-inch wide image using WhiteWall’s Masterprint printing system located in Germany. However, time constraints made it clear that completing the print, navigating customs, and ensuring installation before the opening night would be unfeasible. In response, WhiteWall proposed an alternative strategy: we would utilize their UltraHD printers to create a slightly smaller yet still impressive 94-inch print. To ensure that the print would stand out, especially in an exhibit adjacent to one featuring Andy Warhol’s work, WhiteWall decided to incorporate finishing touches from their Masterprint series. This included adding an acrylic layer over the print, lending it the fine art polish it deserved.
With the printing strategy firmly in place, WhiteWall proceeded to print the piece while the museum prepared the space in accordance with the finalized dimensions of the artwork. With no time to spare, I made a critical decision to trust WhiteWall Germany with the final color and sharpness adjustments of my image, effectively making this one of the largest proofs ever produced.
I was on set in Phoenix when I received the call from the Western Spirit Museum in Scottsdale, informing me that the print had arrived and that the installation team was scheduled to set it up that night. After wrapping the shoot, my assistant and I drove straight to the museum.
We watched in awe as each image from the exhibit was meticulously measured, re-measured, and carefully installed. The team’s absolute attention to detail was remarkable, and it was deeply meaningful to witness the care and precision with which everything was handled. After several hours of installing the other pieces of the exhibit, it was time to place the centerpiece –- the print from WhiteWall –- into the heart of the exhibit.
Honestly, the impact of the print didn’t fully hit me at first. I observed as the team unboxed the piece, and I assisted in removing all the protective wrapping. Even as it sat bare on the transportation cart, it remained just an image in my eyes. However, everything changed when the team secured it to the cables on the wall and stepped back to admire the work. In that quiet moment, the significance of what I had accomplished began to settle in.
I looked at the picture of our beautiful planet, rendered through my father’s lens, now displayed just a few feet away in a case. Seeing it on the wall, resplendent in its full color, contrast, and polish, was a transformative experience. It was, to be candid, quite emotional for me. I typically strive to maintain a separation between my artwork and my personal identity, but witnessing it displayed in such a grand manner filled me with an overwhelming sense of pride. It was a profoundly humbling experience.
The day of the exhibit’s opening was truly wonderful. It afforded me the opportunity to take a step back and observe as others interacted with and appreciated the exhibit.
It was incredibly special to share this experience with such a diverse audience. With the exhibit scheduled to be on display until March 17, I eagerly anticipate the chance to bring my family, especially my daughter, to witness her father’s first major exhibit. The prospect of sharing this milestone with them fills me with anticipation and joy, a testament to the journey and hard work that culminated in this remarkable achievement.