The Last Desert
The Last Desert is a collection of images from Paul Freeman’s space related series ‘Space Lands’ and ‘New Space’ re-imagined as a series of publicity images created in the format of a NASA publicity pack he was sent as a child.
At the age of ten, inspired by the Apollo moon landing, Freeman wrote to NASA requesting that they sent him a ‘space pen’ as a trade for an anti-gravity device he had devised (based on a childishly inaccurate understanding of gravity learned at primary school).
NASA replied with a pack of 8x10” glossies including faked ‘facsimile’ signatures from the Apollo astronauts, as well as the images of Earthrise and the photograph taken by Neil Armstrong of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon along with a formal corporate letter apologising for NASA’s inability to distribute ‘items of space hardware’.
In 2007, Freeman, then practising as an architectural photographer was intrigued by the news that Norman Foster had designed a new Spaceport terminal building for Richard Bransons’ ‘Virgin Galactic’ space tourism company to be constructed and paid for by two impoverished counties in southern New Mexico. He set out to try to document this project as an independent photographer and over the next seven years made work on or around this theme in New Mexico and in the Mojave desert of California where the rocket technology was being developed.
During many visits Freeman documented the landscape and social context of the ‘Spaceport America’ project. The building of the project the major building parts being substantially completed by 2011, still waits for the completion of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane which suffered a fatal accident during testing in 2014.
The term ‘Orphans of Apollo’ was coined to describe those whose childhood was shaped by the Apollo program and who expected to be part of a spacefaring civilisation by their middle age, instead they found a world that did not match up to the idealism and imagination of the 1960’s. Some of those ‘orphans’ have now started space businesses that are transforming the development of new rockets and space technologies.
Freeman’s contextualising of the dreams and the always not quite finished dream of the space tourism project and the vast expense and transformation of the desert into a spaceport, is ironically framed by the context of the success of the Apollo program as seen through its historical publicity material and the perspective of one of the ‘Orphans of Apollo’.