METEORITE HUNTERS SEARCH FOR treasures from space, pushing aside the terrestrial in a quest for the alien. Alexandra Lethbridge sees their work as a metaphor for how people are too often chasing the exotic at the expense of the familiar. “We crave to see and experience things that are strange and different to us, but quite often, we’re overlooking the true nature of the things that surround us,” she says.
The British photographer believes Earth can inspire just as much wonder as anything else in the galaxy. To prove it, she created The Meteorite Hunter. The photo book documents the work of a fictional meteorite prospector and the stunning otherworldly locales her objects come from.
But here’s the twist. The pictures depict the wonders of earth and space, but you don’t know what’s what. The rock you’re scrutinizing might be a chunk of NWA Chondrite L5 meteorite discovered in the Sahara or a bit of azurite purchased in a gift shop. Likewise, that spectacular photo of a crater might have been taken by Buzz Aldrin as he walked on the moon, or by an Arizona tourist just feet from his car. Telling the difference between the two can be frustratingly difficult. “The whole project revolves around the uncertainty of the reality of what you’re looking at,” she says.
Lethbridge spent months weaving fact and fiction to create the collection. She purchased a bit of meteorite–or what she was told was a bit of a meteorite—on eBay and humbler rocks like pyrite and labradorite in museum gift shops. She also rummaged through photographic archives at NASA and elsewhere, and combed through antique stores and yard sales for images she could easily manipulate. Some of her images are collages of multiple photos, while others have been augmented with paint to further blur the line between what’s real. “I was trying to create a landscape that was representing something that we haven’t experienced,” she says.
The Meteorite Hunter elicits surprise and awe, leading you to reconsider how you view Earth and see it as a wonderful, amazing place. Lethbridge likens the feeling to the overview effect, the sudden appreciation many astronauts report feeling after seeing our planet from space. “It’s at that moment,” Lethbridge says, “that we break out of our normal perspective and can then experience something extraordinary in the ordinary.”