It would be easy to skip past these photos or their explanation. Click to enlarge them, really look, and then read the descriptions below. It recalls Ian Frazier’s Siberia travelogue, dispatches from another planet embedded in this one.
I keep coming back to this photo essay by Jonas Bendiksen. I may have linked to it before, but Magnum appears to have upgraded its shitty website into something actually usable since then. These are photographs from the border area between Russia and Kazakhstan, where space debris from Russia’s Baikonur launch site rains down, sometimes in populated areas. The first photograph is simply perfect, too perfect: it doesn’t look real, it looks like a collage. Here is the image caption: “Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel.” In the second image, a young boy looks eagerly up at the sky: he is looking for falling stars, or, alternatively, rocket debris that can be sold as scrap metal. The third: “A farmer taking an evening stroll past the wreck of a Soyuz spacecraft. In this agricultural village, rockets routinely fall into people’s back yards.” And finally, the fourth: dead cows, possibly killed by toxic rocket fuel in the soil. Who needs staged photography when reality can be as wonderful and as sad as this?
Sadly, the book these pictures are from, Satellites, is one of the many photobooks that are out of print and only available for outrageous prices in the secondhand market.