Katinka Schuett’s winning series examines our perceptions of space
“Cosmic Drive primarily explores the way humans handle ignorance,” says Katinka Schuett of her Female in Focus winning series, which examines the contradictory spheres of fantasy and hard science. “I am interested in our perceptions of space, and the question of whether or not life can be found in the universe.” Schuett is as concerned with fantasy as she is with facts, merging the two to consider the illusions we create when there is a void of information.
The photographer’s interest in outer space was initially people-driven – she began Cosmic Drive by photographing people who catalogued possible UFO sightings and extraterrestrial phenomena in Germany. “I’m fascinated by humans’ preoccupation with things that are not visible or tangible,” explains Schuett.
Many of her photographs play on clichéd tropes of space travel. In one image, an alien lies on a hospital bed as if undergoing a medical examination, its face an exact replica of aliens in Hollywood films and science fiction books, and in another, an index finger is bright red and lit up, like the science fiction character E.T. “It’s interesting how the look and appearance of an alien body, or the picture of a glowing finger, is universally understood,” she says.
In the work, Schuett plays with our collective consciousness, exploring our concepts for things that are intangible. She acknowledges that these concepts are contemporary; “they possess a scientific appearance that is closely bound to our time,” she explains. “I’m sure this project would look completely different if it was made 50 years ago.”
But while our interest in space travel and its aesthetic is often associated with the present day and recent history, the universe has been a source of interest for thousands of years. “People have always been interested in the possibility of not being alone in the universe,” says Schuett. “This fascination developed into a burning desire to prove all these theories.” Schuett looks for physical manifestations of this desire, such as spaceships, giant antennas and telescopes, which have been made to communicate with unknown extraterrestrial entities in the hopes of receiving signals from outer space. “I find it amazing to think that these theories and this faith in proving the unknown has sparked real life inventions and scientific explorations of outer space,” she says.
Katinka Schuett is one of two Female in Focus series winners. Cosmic Drive will be on show at United Photo Industries Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, from 22 October until 15 November 2019 (opening hours are Tuesday – Friday 11am – 6pm). The exhibition has been framed in partnership with Larson-Juhl. View the two winning series, and the 20 winning single images here.
British Journal of Photography has been championing photographers since 1854. Female in Focus is one of six awards dedicated to platforming the next generation of talent. Currently open for applications is the second chapter of OpenWalls Arles 2020: Daily Life, our annual award dedicated to introducing new talent alongside Les Rencontres d’Arles 2020.