Direction-Space! by Maria Gruzdeva is a documentary photography project about the Russian space industry and its two most iconic sites – Star City and Baikonur. Once top-secret locations, both sites opened their doors to Gruzdeva, who decided to explore the space community, investigating the physical and psychological space.
Star City lies right outside Moscow and since the 1960s it has been home to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, where cosmonauts have lived and trained since the 1960s. Once a secret location, Star City now acts as a military research centre with training facilities as well as a residential area for cosmonauts, workers, and their families.
Baikonur is situated in the desert steppe of Kazakhstan. The site was constructed in the 1950s to service the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility. It quickly became a full-size town with housing, schools, and necessary infrastructure built to service the Cosmodrome workers. The site has been leased by the Kazakh government to Russia and is currently managed by the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces.
In Direction-Space! Gruzdeva nicely combined interior shots, portraits, and more reportage-style images, thus creating an interesting visual study of the Star City and Baikonur, two fascinating Cold War relics. A cosmonaut suit posing proudly, a mannequin saluting in a corner, or a cosmonaut training underwater – although some of these scenes may seem bizarre, as if taken from an old sci-fi movie, they were all photographed in 2000s and must have existed at least at that point in time. In fact, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the somewhat outlandish character of what’s depicted in Gruzdeva’s photographs and the Cold War Space Race itself, when appearances and impressions mattered as much (if not more) as real scientific output. Gruzdeva’s approach to this fascinating story means that Direction-Space! goes beyond a mere collection of ‘weird’ snapshots catering to the public craving for vintage, hipster, post-soviet visuals. Instead, Direction-Space! reveals traces of history and power, and attempts to offer a new insight into the Space Race, once so central to the Cold War and history of East-West relationships, and still very pertinent today.