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The Afronauts – the £1,000 book of Zambian spacemen


These remarkable pictures come from a much-sought after self-published photography book called The Afronauts by Cristina de Middel. AbeBooks currently has a single copy for sale and, at even just over £1,000, it will probably sell very soon. (UPDATE – this copy has now sold, UPDATE 2 – there is now another copy online since August 1)

Only one other copy has been listed on our site and that sold for £825 in March.

The Afronauts reimagines the true story of the failed Zambian Space programme from 1964, started by a school teacher who wanted to put an African into orbit. De Middel blurs the lines between fact and fiction. Her photographs show Zambians dressing up in Buck Rogers-style space outfits made by De Middel’s grandmother. The Observer wrote about De Middel earlier this month and it’s an interesting read.

De Middel wanted the book to reflect the makeshift nature of the Zambian space dream, but also the peculiar magic of that dream as well. “I made storyboards, researched locations, designed the spacesuits. Then, when I was shooting the model in a space helmet like a giant bubble, I suddenly saw how dreamy it looked and I just went with that. The shot defined the aesthetic for the rest of the images.”

The aesthetic worked. The Afronauts became the word-of-mouth book at last year’s Arles photography festival. Martin Parr, photographer, photobook collector and champion of all things new and interesting in the photobook world, bought 35 copies. Soon after, it began selling rapidly (cover price: €28) through online orders and in the various independent book shops that De Middel had managed to convince to stock a few copies. By the end of last year, it had sold out its print run of 1,000.

Although literary self publishing still gets the cold shoulder from many people, self publishing is nothing new for photographers who have a very particular idea in mind – (Ed Ruscha to potential publisher: ‘So I’m going to take photos of 26 petrol stations.’).

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