Stanley Kubrick’s seminal classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, progenated an ambitious and stunning vision of humankind’s spacefaring future. In it, Kubrick captures both the overwhelming emptiness of space and the technology that might get us there in then-unparalleled detail. Nearly 50 years later, photographer Edgar Martins channels his inner Kubrick in a photo series that documents the intricate beauty of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Martins is an accomplished photographer who has captured images from a watering hole in South Africa to a fully-fabricated British town. In 2012, he requested clearance to produce a comprehensive survey of the ESA’s state-of-the-art facilities for a project called The Rehearsal of Space & the Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite.
While the ESA doesn’t have its own artist residency program like the one NASA attempted, or the program program CERN continues to support, it was an ambitious request, for which Martins' work was handsomely rewarded—the ESA granted him unprecedented access to over a dozen robotics departments, jet propulsion laboratories, space simulators, and launch platforms from the UK to Kazakhstan.
Seeing an opportunity to connect with the public through art, The ESA and Martins took full advantage of the opportunity: from modules shot with Kubrickian symmetry, to detailed portraits of science in progress, The Rehearsal of Space & the Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite captures the aesthetic presence that accompanies the final frontier. Throughout his 18-month stint with the ESA, Martins’ documented dozens of locations using long exposure times—frequently up to an hour—to capture the stunning detail of the machinery:
On his website, Martins states, “like a topographer or visual archaeologist, I set out to discover and reveal the spectrum of possibilities awakened by the objects and places I visited, consequently, inviting a broader and more intricate experience of its hidden meanings.” With the wealth of 'hidden meanings' that keep emerging via the internet, we're left hoping he'll try his eye on some U.S. Departments next.
Like what you see? These photos will be on display at The Wapping Project Bankside in London until May 29.