(2018 – 2022)
Wernher von Braun was a man with star dust in his eyes, and blood on his hands. In his last thirty years he was an American citizen who built rockets for NASA, machines which landed men on the moon in 1969. But in his first thirty years he was a German citizen, who wore an SS uniform and built ballistic missiles for the military of Nazi Germany, machines which killed thousands of civilians between 1944 and 1945.
Depravity’s Rainbow uses this improbable life story as a way to explore the equally contradictory history of space exploration, and the way that militaristic and expansionist aims have often been dressed in a cloak of peaceful civilian science. Pre-war and post-war lives are juxtaposed in a narrative arc shaped like the parabola of a ballistic missile, and through this the problematic histories, moral ambiguities, and Faustian pacts of von Braun’s life, and of space exploration in general, are laid bare.
I draw on a mixture of photographs made during visits to key rocket development sites across Europe, many of them today largely forgotten. Alongside these images I assemble further photographs, documents and other materials from a variety of government and scientific archives. These pieces are then printed as cyanotypes, the earliest form of photography and originally intended for astronomical photography, the cyanotype process was used throughout the 20th century to produce engineering and architectural blueprints. Latent within the cyanotype’s chemistry are also the components of hydrogen cyanide, the gas used in the systematic extermination of at least one million people during the holocaust.
Project comprises: 121 blue cyanotype prints, 245 brown toned cyanotype prints, 72 colour photographs of original documents, approximately 300 A4 pages of research materials, 20 minute video installation.
Book published by Disphotic Editions, 2023.