Review by C.J. Bunce
A giant new photographic essay of the space program reads like a behind the scenes account of the greatest production ever attempted. And it might be just that. Space Utopia: A Journey Through the History of Space Exploration from the Apollo and Sputnik Programmes to the Next Mission to Mars is the result of a decade of collaboration between photographer Vincent Fournier and the world’s most important space and research centers. Fournier worked with researchers at NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Space agency, the European Southern Observatory, and other locations to identify those intriguing parts of earthbound facilities, historical locations, and physical objects that have gone to space and back, seen through an artist’s eye. From space suits and environmental suits to spaceships, satellites, Soyuz trainers, ballistic missiles, and rovers, to training facilities and environments, to experimental items used on the International Space Station and flown to the moon, Space Utopia is a one-of-a-kind look at the history of the space program in pictures.
Through his photographs Fournier is attempting to explore humankind’s myths and fantasies about the future. According to Fournier, “My aesthetic, philosophical and recreational fascination for the space adventure undoubtedly comes from the pictures and books I saw and read in the 1970s and ’80s — movies, television series, science fiction novels, documentaries and news reports — that have mixed and superimposed in my memory like a palimpsest…. Space explorations emblematic locations are like cinema sets where Tintin might meet with Jules Verne in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”
Has the future already happened or does something more lie ahead? Some images are stunning and colorful in their brilliance–high-tech concepts at their finest. Others are stark and haunting, like posed space suits from Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom. Space shuttles frozen in their retirement like the dismantled Discovery and immovable Independence, and the Atlantis standing majestically poised for its final flight all appear as ghostly, solemn relics, while the futuristic sound chambers. the dexterous robotic humanoid Robonaut 2, and Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America evoke an optimistic future ahead.
Rooms full of wires and circuitry that launched rockets and communicated with them in the 1960s remain just as they were left mesmerize in their nostalgic appeal, yet they look hardly different from rooms for the same purpose revealed by Fournier that are in use today. Images include peeks into the most confidential facilities, like the inside of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia, and its underwater testing replica of the ISS (rotary telephones are ready for use). Grand views from distant observatories appear eerily quiet and alien.
Fournier includes a glossary mixing words and phrases from both the scientific and pop culture realms. Find more previews from inside the book at Fournier’s website here. Fournier is a frequent contributor to Wired, Time, GQ, National Geographic, The New York Times, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Now available for the first time, in a lavish, giant, oversized 10.5 x 13.6 inch hardcover edition with 184 pages of colorful photographs, Space Utopia is highly recommended for aerospace enthusiasts, concept artists, futurists, and anyone waiting for the next great space flight. Order it now here at Amazon, published by Rizzoli New York.