For Monica Alcazar-Duarte, space has always been a source of inspiration. The Mexico City-born photographer has been drawn to humanity’s relationship with the cosmos for years now, examining the subject at length in the pages of her first-ever book, The New Colonists.
The project, published by Bemojake, celebrates “the zeal, creativity and resilience” of the people who are making space exploration a reality. Over 120 pages, Alcazar-Duarte fuses fine art photography, documentary work and cutting-edge “augmented reality” technology to examine the shape of our future.
“I could never afford the fare to Mars the Planet – but I was able to manage a ticket to Mars, Pennsylvania,” the photographer jokes. “I wanted to find out what a small town in suburban US could tell me about our desire to explore the Cosmos. I felt a symbolic connection between this little town with a railway running through it and the freezing red planet millions of miles away.”
Alcazar-Duarte attempts to make this connection in three different ways throughout the book. The first is through a series of portraits of Mars, Pennsylvania – taken in gas stations, football fields and fast food joints – which aim to serve up a sense of small-town, western normality.
The second is through a contrasting selection of documentary images, which are interspersed at random points. Taken in the European Space Agency, as well as robotic rover testing and astronaut training facilities, they chronicle the intense research and training that space colonisation requires.
The third and final way is through the use of embedded footage and sound – otherwise known as “Augmented Reality Portals.” These allow viewers to discover new knowledge within the book’s pages using a specially-made app, which gives access to 3D animations; as well as narrations from Dr Ian Crawford, Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck.
“We use technological methods to extend our human view into space by sending spacecraft and telescopes to look further than we could physically go,” Alcazar-Duarte continues. “I wanted to provide a reflection of this by creating a technological viewing portal as part of the book. Our human virtual life is expanding, giving us the opportunity to communicate, learn, socialise, and shop virtually. I wanted to reflect this notion of virtual existence as an extra element presented as part of a physical book. The book as an object is not absolutely complete without its virtual chapter, accessed purely by technology.”
“Our culture, technology, entertainment, and philosophy all are fascinated with the vastness, mystery and complexity of space,” she adds. “We devote a huge amount of time probing beyond our atmosphere. We search for answers to our origins, our destiny, and also how we might better live our lives on this planet. I think that ‘space’ humbles us. Its immensity reminds us of how small we are.”