Christopher J. Herzog does not remember his first photo subjects as a student at Pennsylvania College of Technology. But the memories of recent filming promise to be forever. Herzog set his sights on the most advanced space telescope in history, an observatory that aims to identify the first stars and galaxies in the universe.
The Mechanicsburg native is a photographer for Northrop Grumman, the leading aerospace and defense technology company. For Herzog, work is more than a career snapshot. He embodies his passion, fueled by a digital photography course at Penn College.
“I am grateful for this course because without it I would never have discovered my passion” said Herzog, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in information technology, specializing in networks. “Without this course, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
It is located at a designated historic aerospace site, the Northrop Grumman Space Park in Redondo Beach, California. Work on the 110-acre complex produced vital contributions to space exploration, from the descent engine for the Apollo lunar excursion module that brought American astronauts down to the moon’s surface, to instrument sets on the Viking landers who performed biological experiments on Mars.
“It’s exciting to be able to witness all the great things happening here”, Herzog said. “The first time I walked into the high rise cleanroom, I literally pinched myself. It’s surreal. Every time, it’s the same feeling.
A visit to the huge facility often requires Herzog to don a bunny costume before grabbing his cameras. Protective clothing prevents him from contaminating the environment of his photographic subjects, such as the James Webb Space Telescope.
Northrop Grumman is one of the two main manufacturers of the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. A partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, the Webb Telescope is optimized for infrared wavelengths and tasked with exploring every phase of cosmic history.
Herzog’s photos documented the space observatory in its stowage configuration before it was transported by ship earlier this fall to its launch site in French Guiana, located on the northeast coast of South America. . About a month after its launch in December, the Webb Telescope is expected to reach its orbital position, 940,000 miles from Earth.
“Having the opportunity to photograph one of humanity’s most monumental accomplishments – the culmination of our best technology – was simply inspiring. It was metamorphic. Herzog describes.
Other photo missions have included elements of high-tech aviation achievements, such as the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, an early warning and control aircraft with in-flight refueling capability, and the F / A -18E / F Super Hornet Block II, a multirole attack fighter.
“Witnessing how all the parts fit together to create a sophisticated machine is amazing” Herzog said. “I have nothing but respect for all of our scientists, engineers and employees.”
Growing up, Herzog was an aspiring engineer. He liked to take things apart and try – often unsuccessfully, he admits – to put them back together. In high school, he turned to computers while volunteering for an organization that rebuilt old PCs for people. This led to an associate’s degree in networking from Harrisburg Area Community College.
The allure of a bachelor’s degree in computer science brought him to Penn College.
“The professors offered a lot of valuable professional experiences and they really wanted to be involved in the success of their students. Herzog remembers. “Stephen Cheskiewicz was a great teacher. He was able to give me the confidence to pursue what I wanted and to be aware of the risks. “
The associate professor of computer information technology returned the compliment.
“I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and Chris has stood out as one of the most remarkable students I have had in class.” said Cheskiewicz. “He had a level of skill and professionalism that I rarely see, with attention to detail that has helped him produce some of the best work I have ever received from a student in a 400 level course.”
Potential employers were also impressed. A major defense contractor recruited Herzog in his senior year and hired him as a systems administrator in the King of Prussia to design and develop data centers. In his spare time, Herzog focused on his Penn College-inspired hobby: photography.
The college requires that all students seeking a bachelor’s degree take an elective course in art. Herzog chose digital photography on the recommendation of his father.
“It was a crazy experience to learn something completely new from a completely different approach than computer science” Herzog said. “My teacher, Keith Vanderlin (assistant professor of graphic design), was strict and honest, and I enjoyed that. Most of my photos were bad. I have learned that failure is part of the path to success. I could have taken my failures personally and given up, but I wanted to prove to myself and everyone that I could do it.
Stretch her “Muscle of the creative mind” in this class led Herzog to realize that photography was his true calling.
“It’s capturing a moment and / or creating a moment. You can always learn something new, and there is no end. You can create your own style. You can break the rules without any repercussions. There is a lot to love ”, he explained.
According to Bradley M. Webb, Dean of Engineering Technologies, Herzog’s experience with the course illustrates the importance of a general education to complement the strong technical core that students receive at Penn College.
“Mathematics, English and communication lessons strengthen the pedagogical bases of the pupils. Science, history and art courses broaden their perspective ”, he said. “Overall, the courses add tremendous value to the specialized hands-on experiences that students receive in their major. And sometimes, like in Christopher’s case, they open future doors you never knew existed. “
The door didn’t open right away for Herzog. IT was his invested career path, and he loved people and his role as a defense contractor. But alongside, he began to develop a whole collection of photographs, with sections devoted to portraits, landscapes, fashion and architecture.
“I made a medley of everything. Nothing was off the table ”, he said.
A friendship with one of his employer’s photographers introduced him to the impressive opportunities in defense / industrial photography and prompted him to seek a position in the Northrop Grumman photo team. Herzog landed the job in July.
“I work with a team of great people. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and they are all extremely knowledgeable ”, Herzog said. “They taught me a lot and I hope to continue to learn from them. “
Portraits, corporate events, manufacturing processes and the latest examples of Northrop Grumman’s aerospace ingenuity fill the “A sea of endless photo opportunities”, Herzog said. His tasks encompass the entire photographic workflow: shooting, editing, delivery and archiving. The use of her photos ranges from marketing initiatives to reference materials.
“I am proud of myself that I took the risk of pursuing my passion – something in which I have no in-depth formal education”, Herzog said. “I am a risk averse person, and that alone has been my biggest challenge and my greatest pride. “