Cristina de Middel – The Afronauts

Copyright 2012 Cristina de Middel (Puch), self-published

Christina de Middel created a historical novella with her artists book The Afronauts about what might could have been. In 1964 Edward Makuka Nkoloso created the Zambian Space Program with the goal to fly twelve astronauts, including one girl, and ten cats to Mars. He was convinced that he could beat the United States to Mars and place Zambia on the forefront of the technology frontier. Cristina de Middel has re-told the story of this humorous series of events with her own pluck and style.

It is interesting that de Middel was not tempted to seize upon the more humorous documented events surrounding this misadventure, the 17 year old girl who during her training became pregnant, the desire to include the ten cats in this program, the training simulations involving the trainees swinging on a rope during which Nkoloso would cut the rope to provide a sense of weightlessness, as well as having the trainees tumbling inside a large drum as they rolled down a hill.

The book is an enjoyable mash up of her photographs, simulated documents, found photographs and her artwork. The weaving of these elements creates a complex reading in which it is necessary to open gatefolds that result in concealing photographic plates and perhaps in the process creates a confusing mess. Perhaps similar to attempting to understand Nkoloso’s Space Program. I liken the experience of reading this book to Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood.

De Middle incorporates a number of translucent pages that read similar to vellum used for technical drawings and specifications, providing a sense of authentication that this might be real in the face of the absurdity. She also incorporates poignant mythology, such as a photograph of a bird’s wing lying on the ground, a referent to the hubris of Icarus.

The book has a reinforced stiff cover with a simple stitch sewn and a visible book block. The book is bound with various single gate-fold inserts and one double-page gatefold. The printing on matte papers reduces the contrast of the color interior images but does not affect the re-telling of this narrative. The essay is by Kojo Nuge.

Note: I selected this book for the 2012 Fotografia di Roma photobook exhibition’s theme of “Work” and subsequently short listed by Aperture for First Photobook award.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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