Blast Off: NASA Photo Exhibit at Edge Alley 

Exhibition coincides with 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Ryan Adams loves to hear what people say when they view his NASA photographs, which range from images of the moon's surface to a rare color photo of Mars.

"It's just hearing the stories they have if they were living during that time," says Adams, 34. "Someone came in the other day, his father had taken him to go see the launch for Apollo 15. He said, 'We were four miles away, and I could feel the concussion of the rocket in my chest.'

"It's hard to imagine seeing a rocket that large," says Adams. "It's crazy — that it would burn 20 tons of fuel a second."

Photos from Adams' collection are on view in "Edge of Space: Apollo 11, Orbiter, and Viking I," the debut show at the new Shift + Gallery inside Edge Alley at 600 Monroe.

All the images are vintage photographs. "Vintage photography just means that it was printed at the time it was taken," Adams says. The photographs "aren't photos that have been reprinted. These are actual photos from NASA that are stamped 'NASA' on the back."

click to enlarge NASA photo of Mars
  • NASA photo of Mars

They were "truly just reference materials for the scientists at NASA. The primary purpose was never to be art."

Adams' love of space dates to conversations he had as a child with his grandfather, who had friends who worked for NASA. "Exploration has always been a massive interest of mine," he says.

He began collecting NASA photographs 20 years ago after he found some at an estate sale at the home of a former NASA employee. He became more knowledgeable about NASA photography when he was director of special collections for Historic Images, which digitizes photographs in newspaper archives.

He also dealt with space photographs when he became director at Daniel Blau gallery in Munich. The gallery's vintage photography collection included photos of major space missions. "There would be [photos] of the Apollo missions, Gemini, Skylab ... different missions to Mars ... Voyager."

A majority of his collection came about a few years ago when he began contacting former NASA employees. "I started using genealogy searches trying to find relatives of photographers who took photos I had in my possession."

Adams was specific about what photographs he wanted, which included photos taken during the Orbiter missions between August 1966 and August 1967. "The Orbiter photographs are just such a monumental feat of engineering, both in rocket science and photography," he says. "The satellites orbited the moon with film, took photographs, developed the film on board the satellite, scanned the film, and then transmitted the image back to Earth, where they would print the strips out. And then collage the strips together."

The Orbiter image in the show is actually about 30 strips that make one large image.

Adams put this exhibit together after Edge Alley chef/owner Tim Barker suggested he do a photo show to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 (July 20th).

The Mars photo, which sells for $7,500, is Adams' favorite. "It's the first color photograph of another planet," he says. "It's also the third known example outside the Smithsonian and NASA's museums in Houston and Huntsville."

The image, taken on a Viking I mission, is "the first photo that was sent back of another planet's surface ... July 20th, 1976.

"Out of the thousands of years people have been studying the stars and planets and looking to the heavens in the sky for meaning in life or mathematics, this is the first time we have a photograph of another planet's surface."

And, Adams says, "It's beautiful."

Edge Alley, 600 Monroe, 425-2605.

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