The Afronauts is based on a historical fact: in 1964 a Zambian science teacher named Edwuard Makuka decided to train the first African crew to travel to the moon. His plan was to use an aluminum rocket to put a woman, two cats and a missionary into Space. First the moon, then Mars, using a catapult system. He founded the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Astronomical Research to start training his Afronauts. Unfortunately his resources were not as big as his dream and, after Unesco had declined to support the project, the training and the dreaming had to stop.
Photographer Cristina De Middel (1975, Spain), by recreating visually this aborted project, plays with the question of truth of documentary. "I am really interested in documenting facts that are unbelievable but true and other phenomenons that are completely false but people tend to believe." This research can be found in other series like Polyspam, a project exhibited at the Festival Images in 2010.
The story of the Zambian space program was also a perfect starting point for Cristina de Middel to give a different glaze on the continent: "today, finding positive stories about Africa remains a difficult task for anyone interested in getting a more complete picture of what is really going on in the continent. Here, in the 'developed countries' we are used to see African people dying or killing themselves, jumping naked or dressed as primitive warriors. The middle class seem to have disappeared, happy families are invisible and children either starve to death or become soldiers. And that is why the idea of an African space program sounds funny and incredible (in that order, first funny, then incredible). But this story is true. Even if the images that document it were taken in Spain almost 50 years later. " Through this work, she builds a bridge between documentary photography and cinema, adding creativity, subjectivity, humour and aesthetics to this genre.
After a successful photojournalist career of nearly ten years, De Middel discovered that she had become disappointed in photojournalism and that her viewpoint toward the consumption of 'authentic' images and the untruths that accompany them was becoming increasingly cynical. The Afronauts is De Middels's first successful attempt to design her own ideal world. De Middel's work shows that fiction can serve as the subject of photography just as well as facts can and that our expectation that photography must always make reference to reality is flawed.