Julien Mauve Shows us What Tourists on Mars Will Probably Look Like
Mars has monopolized the media as of late – and for good reason. 20th Century Fox’s new epic sci-fi film “The Martian” will be released October 2nd, perfectly aligned with NASA’s announcement this week of the possibility of life-giving water on the arid planet’s surface.
Add these recent headlines together and suddenly the fourth planet from the sun is feeling a little closer to home. But long before Mars was a big deal in the news, French photographer Julien Mauve created “Greetings from Mars”– a photo series that captures the red planet through the eyes of a few space-tourists. We caught up with Julien to get the behind the scenes details of the photo shoot, learn more about why he created the series, and see why sometimes the best ideas are a little out of this world.
Tell us more about the story behind the “Greetings from Mars” series.
Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated with Mars. I can still picture myself back in college making presentations about it. I think often about how if we manage to solve our environment and energy issues, space exploration and colonization might be the greatest adventure of the century. The fact that we may witness it in our lifetime (just as our parents and grandparents did in the 60’s) makes it even more exciting. The Internet nearly broke when Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere…just imagine the day the first man will put a foot on Mars!
In the meantime, Earth has become really small. We are only 12 hours and $800 away from the other side of the world. Those easy traveling conditions have made tourism available to more people. It took less than 500 years for the Wild West to go from an amazing discovery to an epic tourist destination, so I believe barring transportation issues and other potential disasters, space-tourism for middle class people is something we can imagine happening in less than 100 years.
On top of that, smartphones and social networks have emerged, allowing us to share our lives with everyone else in real time, to write our own story. We’ve literally developed a new language to communicate emotions through pictures and that really fascinates me. These are all the ideas I’ve tried to mix into this project.
Tell me more about the actual shoot: what gear did you use, how did you find the shoot locations, was it difficult to pose the astronauts?
When it comes to finding Mars look-alike landscapes on Earth, there aren’t a lot of choices. Basically, what you need is a landscape with rocks, sand, canyons and no signs of biological life, all with a red tint on it. Australia and the Wadi Rum in Jordania have those kinds of landscapes, but I chose the Wild West because it offered a much larger variety in an easily reachable distance. I did my scouting using Google Maps, Flickr, and Instagram, and I chose the places that I thought had the most potential, including the Grand Canyon, Canyonland, Death Valley, Meteo Crater, Imperial Dunes and the Petrified Forest.
I used the Sony A7R to shoot this project and I’m totally in love with the weight and the quality of the pictures you can get from it. We only had two people working on this project, so we had to wear the suits ourselves. In some pictures, the camera is triggered with my phone in WIFI. Other times, I simply used the old-fashioned 10s timer and quickly ran in the middle of the desert in a space-suit to be in the frame – like any other tourist.
Hanging around in a space suit was not really convenient, but it was even harder because it was so warm. The funny thing is, Mars is a really cold planet due to its thin atmosphere. But the pictures’ temperatures are warm due to the red tint. It’s kind of visually disturbing.
We have to ask… where did you find the astronaut suits?
One of the reasons I chose the Wild West for the project is that I knew I would find the equipment very easily in Los Angeles. And in fact I did, even if it was a little bit complicated with insurance. I collaborated with a company called Wonderworks whose client list includes NASA, SpaceX, Dragon, XPrize, Space Camp, and more. They were very nice and helpful. The space suits I used are replicas of the ESP-A7L suits used for the Apollo missions. Of course, these would not be the same ones used for a Mars mission, but my goal was not to stick to the scientific truth. My goal was more to get something close to what we have in mind when we think of an astronaut.
What’s your favorite image of the series?
I don’t really have a preference but the selfie-stick picture has become quite popular on the web. And the jump picture has offered me my first magazine cover! So I guess I feel most attached to those two.
How did you use Photoshop in the process?
I used Photoshop to remove some plants, trees, and sensor dust. Also, a lot of the post-production phase was dedicated to color calibration. I wanted to create a photographic universe as close as possible to what it would be on Mars, so I spent most of my time working on color. I used the pictures from the Curiosity rover published by JPL as a reference.
Are you excited about the movie ‘The Martian’ coming out? Are you expecting it to be similar to your series in any way?
Sure! I read Andy Weir’s book before starting the project and loved it. I’m really excited to see how Ridley Scott and his team put the story in motion. From what I saw in the first trailer, they’ve put in a lot of work on the movie and it’s going to look really nice (nothing compared to Antony Hoffman’s Red Planet where it feels like they simply put a red filter in front of the camera).
As to the similarities, besides the fact that it’s happening on Mars, I don’t expect any. ‘The Martian’ is a dramatic survival movie meant to entertain. In my project, Mars was more a pretext to point out the development of our tourism habits that have developed alongside the photography, the technology and the ability to share when we’re on the spot.