“I try not to imagine what I am going to find or the images that I would like to make. I tend to be frustrated by anything that appears as a clear-cut answer,” explains Mexican-British photographer Monica Alcazar-Duarte. Her (often) long-term projects are characterised by their multidimensional, layered nature and a product of her convoluted creative history.
Born in Mexico City, Monica initially studied filmmaking before moving to New York City where she undertook an applied science course at Parsons School of Design. From here she left for London and enrolled on the performance design and practice course at Central Saint Martins and later gained a master’s in photography from London College of Communication. Her 12-year long photographic career emerged as a way to distil this creative wandering. “The whole experience just grounded me and slowed me down to the point of making me see and relate to everything in a way that I never quite found when writing a screenplay or making a film. It is the tension that photography has with complexity that intrigues me over most other mediums,” she explains.
Monica’s projects are anchored by thorough research and develop over a long period of time. Her latest venture, The New Colonists is the first of what has become, over the past three years, a series. It begins by presenting the uncanny suburban town of Mars in Pennsylvania, USA – one of only three on Earth named Mars (the other two appear in France and Ukraine). Monica visited the one in Pittsburgh shortly after graduating and was struck by its sleepy atmosphere, completely at odds with its intergalactic namesake. “Its normality presented an interesting contrast to the rest of my work on Mars (the planet) which proved so exotic during every other step of making this project,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Throughout the book, depictions of Mars’ inhabitants are interrupted by five additional sequences of images which chronicle the research and individual scientists who are attempting to make colonising the Red Planet possible. Over the past three years, Monica has visited The European Space Agency testing facilities in The Netherlands; The Mullard Space Laboratory in Surrey; University College London Physics and Astronomy Department; Oxford University Physics Department; Durham University Astronomy and Astrophysics Department; The Planetary Science and Astrobiology Department at Birkbeck in London; Lunares mobile research station; and The United Nations Space Generation Advisory Council.
During these visits she gained invaluable insight into the facilities where “robotic rovers are put through their paces in artificial landscapes of rock and sand and would-be astronauts are tested against the rigours of a future Mars mission.” Despite the fact that the space exploration industry is rapidly expanding, its community is fairly small. “Once I accessed one group this led me to meet others,” Monica explains. “The scientific community that I encountered was very generous with their time and research. I encountered time and again people willing to share what they were doing as a way of sharing knowledge.”
The book, which is launching tonight (2 February) at The Photographers’ Gallery in London and that was published by Bemojake also features a series of AR-enabled illustrations. By using an app developed by Paul Ferragut, readers can interact with 3D animations of spy satellites and space colonies by Levan Tozashvili as well as narration from Dr Ian Crawford, Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck. Monica describes how “we use technological methods to extend our human view into space by sending spacecraft and telescopes to look further than we could physically go.” The AR element of the publication, therefore, mirrors this by providing a technological viewing of the printed page.
A book of juxtapositions, The New Colonists is a celebratory and fascinating series of images. Through its beautifully considered design, the book presents the breadth of Monica’s research and interaction with this exciting world in an altogether fitting manner.
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