I recently ran across these charming photographs of Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter and his beautiful American family that were published in Life magazine in 1962. I was particularly keen on the second photograph of little Candy Carpenter, with her Prince Valiant haircut, as she spoke with her father in the capsule after he successfully landed. Candy’s eyes are so focused and full of life.
The eyes in Gregory Manchess’ portrait of Scott Carpenter are almost identical. The bright reflections bouncing off his helmet can’t obscure those same focused eyes. In his artist statement, Manchess reflects, “As a kid, I was always looking skyward, staring out into interstellar space from behind the atmospheric face mask of Earth. I feel a kinship with these explorers. Perhaps it’s the promise of all that discovery.” A kinship that is also seen in the eyes of Candy Carpenter.
Emerging from a void, Andrew G. Hobbs‘ hallowed portrait of an astronaut is striking. Looking over the many space suits that we have put up here over time, most are the Luke Skywalker types in their white, pillowy Apollo suits that embody the epitome of the hero archetype – full of wholesome goodness and hope. Hobbs’ astronaut falls on the dark side. The helmet frames no visible human inside as the suit weighs heavy on the shoulders of a form that it may house. The multitude of fabric, buckles, hoses and claps that decorate the suit are suitably highlighted in his grey scale portrait against the dark emptiness of space.
There is something about astronauts rendered in oil paint that really gets me going. Oil portraiture obviously has a long rich lineage; it is almost fitting to see the space faring explorers immortally captured in oil like the heroes and royalty of times past. Jonathan Wateridge’s Group Series No.2 – Space Program (2008) captures the pride, reservation and uneasiness that must have too been seen in the eyes of those venturing out in wooden ships to chart the unknown world. Group Series No. 2 was shown at the Saatchi Gallery, Wateridge’s dossier includes, “Astronauts have an almost symbolic status. They operate on the frontier of an effort to understand the unknown. They appeal to a child-like sense of awe and adventure yet are the ultimate display of a culture’s economic power and political ideology.”
I have a deep affinity for airports. I grew up in San Diego, flying out of Lindbergh Field where the Lucky Lindy aviator has a massive mural dedicated to his honor. If you’re lucky enough to claim your bags from Terminal Two, you’ll find a lifesize model of The Spirit of Saint Louis hovering above. The small single runway airport in Northern Michigan that I would fly into every summer, has Aviator Snoopy ceiling fans whose propellers keep summer travelers safe from the squelching heat. I dropped off a friend last night at SFO wearing a full suit (his theory that it would wrinkle less if worn, rather than stored). And he did look quite sharp next to the slew of passengers arriving in pajama bottoms and hoodies. I know the golden age of commercial airfare is long over, but I cherish that many terminals and airports continue to glorify airtravel of times past.
The above mosaic can be found in the single terminal at Ulan-Ude Airport in Eastern Siberia. A fearless red suited cosmonaut greets travelers as they touch down. Maybe I am too much of an idealist, but nothing compares to feeling like you just participated in a great legacy of human accomplishment.
I found these really incredible space suit motion tests through the Flickr of the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which is a veritable trove of space goodies. I’m not entirely sure what the back story is on these but it would seem to me that they were testing the mobility of the suits, making sure the people who wore them could move adequately to do their jobs (aka play golf on the moon). I doubt these images were never meant to be seen as “artsy”, but I can’t help but think of how cool they look.
Dear San Diego Air & Space Museum, if you own the rights to these photos you should blow them up to a giant size and sell them as art prints, make your fine organization a little money!