“From an early age I’ve been fascinated by Nasa, its cosmos and the idea of travelling through outer space to different planets,” explains Stuttgart-based designer Steffen Knöll. When researching exoplanets (those with the potential to be inhabited by humans), he stumbled upon the Nasa Archive: an image bank full of high-resolution files, in the public domain, and couldn’t help but focus his diploma project on the wealth of material.
Titled Apollo 11, Man on the Moon, Das Visuelle Archiv, the publication features photos from before, during and after Nasa’s first expedition to the moon. “According to my research, no book containing most or all images of the Apollo 11 mission has ever been published,” Steffen explains, “I thought a tribute book to this amazing, world-changing mission, would be the perfect thing to pursue during my diploma.”
Apollo 11, Man on the Moon, Das Visuelle Archiv is a mammoth project, featuring a total of 1811 photographs over 496 pages. In order to make the task plausible, Steffen developed a system of categorisation based on the contents of the photographs. These included humans, the moon, Earth, design and technology and each of these could be combined in order to create new categories. Each grouping was then given a priority number, for example, a photo of a human on the moon ranked higher than a human in front of a machine.
Once each image had been categorised and ranked, Steffen began designing the book’s pages. The highest ranking images were afforded the most amount of space, meaning photographs depicting scenes such as the American Flag on the surface of the moon are presented as full bleed, double page spreads. As this system is largely undecipherable without prior knowledge of how it functions, Steffen included an index at the back of the book to enable readers to navigate the content.
The publication is largely image-led, however, throughout the book, snippets of Nasa’s transcripts can be found. Initially wanting to include the entirety of the transcripts, Steffen realised that they contained a lot of mission details and technological information that could only be appreciated by those with in-depth scientific knowledge. He therefore only included the human interactions. The snippets of text provide a humanistic quality to the almost unbelievable photography. For example one conversation recalls Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin requesting the latest newspaper updates 380,000 km away from civilisation. These illuminating texts are set in Century Schoolbook Regular and Italic, a typeface that was used during the 1960s and 70s for scientific briefs and one that is still used to this day by the US Supreme Court.
For Steffen, the project provided a chance to explore a subject that has always fascinated him through processes and mediums that he loves: “editing, designing, sometimes translating and combining tones of information and images into one book that pays tribute to the single most amazing thing in the history of humankind.” Since graduating, Steffen has joined forces with fellow student from the State Academy of Art and Design Stuttgart, Sven Tillack, to form Studio Tillack Knöll with the aim to produce both digital and analogue works from their shared space in Stuttgart.
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