Rob Stephenson is a New York based photographer who has made a name for himself over the past few decades as a documentary photographer. His work has been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums including The Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Jen Bekman Gallery, and The Museum of the City of New York. He has been awarded the Design Trust for Public Space Photo Urbanism fellowship and a 2013 NYFA Artist Fellowship and has been a darkroom resident at the Camera Club of New York. His first book, From Roof to Table, documenting the urban agriculture movement in New York City, was published in 2012. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. Today we take a closer look at Rob’s series, Myth’s of the Near Future. We were able to ask him a few questions about the passion behind this amazing work.
The Space Coast of Florida is comprised of the towns surrounding Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. When the last Space Shuttle took off from the Florida coast in 2011 a population largely defined by the dreams of the Space Age lost the most potent symbol of its identity. This project looks at the repercussions of the closing of the shuttle program, focussing on the many contradictions the program and its demise engendered. In his collection of short stories, Memories of the Space Age, novelist JG Ballard describes a near future in which the infrastructure of the US space program has been abandoned, its gantries left to decay into the Florida swamp while inanimate astronauts circle the earth in an endless orbit. Though the reality is not as dystopic as he suggests, the slow decline of the space program and its effects on the economy have made many of Ballard’s depictions eerily prescient. With the relics of past successes either neglected or enshrined in museums, the promise of the Space Age has largely been supplanted by a nostalgia for the future.
How did you become interested in this subject matter?
Sometime in 2011 I read an article anticipating the effects that the pending closing of the shuttle program would have on the communities surrounding Kennedy Space Center. Besides the obvious economic impact on what is known as the Space Coast of Florida, I was interested in seeing how the area, so closely linked to the symbolism and mythology of the shuttle, would redefine itself in the wake of the program’s closure.
Around the same time I picked up a book of short stories by JG Ballard, Memories of the Space Age. The stories all take place in and around a deserted and decaying Cape Canaveral, the space program long since abandoned and the landscape littered with its rusting remains. Though written years earlier, around the time of the Apollo program closing, Ballard’s writing really resonated with me when I first visited the Space Coast and those stories are a big inspiration for the project.
Was it difficult to access any of these locations?
Nothing was particularly hard to access. I did get a press pass to photograph a couple of
launches from the Air Force base where I can safely say I was the only person to have photographed a launch from under a dark cloth in several years. A few of the pictures were taken in museums or at publicly accessible areas at Kennedy Space Center. I find it really fascinating to see these once totems of the future now exhibited as relics of the past.
Have you shared the project with NASA / do they know about you?
As far as I know Im not on NASA’s radar….
You mentioned that this series is still in progress, whats next for the work?
Ideally I’d like to photograph few more launches and I’m trying to add to a series of photographs of dead but still orbiting satellites to the work.
How has exploring this subject matter affected your views of the space program?
Ironically, for a project that many people have described as a depressing look at the state of the US space program, it has made me aware of how robust the space program really is. This year alone there are more than 20 launches taking off from the Space Coast. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is doing some amazing things. Of course US manned space flights are still on hold but it is only a matter of time until they resume.
Do you have any other projects that you are working on or any that you want to start?
I have a few ideas percolating but nothing concrete. My main focus is on finishing this project before really exploring anything new.
To view more of Rob’s work, please visit his website.