Conspiracy theories dominate big moments in history: the Holocaust, the shooting of JFK, Sept. 11, Elvis’ “death,” and, of course, the moon landing. Photographer Thomas Herbrich, who specializes in creating artifice, has made his own moon-landing-conspiracy theory in the form of a series called “The Truth About the Moon Landing.”
For his project, Herbrich, whose work will be on view in March at the Circulation(s) Festival in Paris, wanted to concoct his own hoax not about the moon landing itself but about the photographs documenting the famous first steps on the moon. Herbrich invented a character, the fictitious “Uncle Stanley,” to insert into the events surrounding the moon landing as a starting point for the story.
The premise of the series is that Uncle Stanley is behind the photos of the astronauts first landing and walking on the moon (including the famous photo of Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the moon’s surface). Stanley was, allegedly, one of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun’s friends and co-workers at NASA. In addition to staging the moon landing photos, Uncle Stan purportedly came up with the 10-seconds-to-launch countdown.
Herbrich’s story goes further, using the falsified photo rumors as the basis for all other moon-landing-conspiracy theories.
“The Truth About the Moon Landing” isn’t Herbrich’s first foray into the satirical genre. He previously had some success with another spoof, a fake newsletter (complete with photo documentation) about “neuromarketing,” by which advertising agencies would have direct access to consumers’ brains. Based on the newsletter’s popularity, he decided to create his moon landing series.
“My photos are always a mixture of reality and stage—I am mainly a studio photographer. I am not interested in reality like a news photographer, and my visual roots are from the movies (my guru is Stanley Kubrick),” Herbrich communicated via email.
Kubrick, of course, is the inspiration for Uncle Stanley, who in the photographs is played by Herbrich’s brother and assistant, Markus.
Herbrich said he “… wrote the story very burlesque and funny—just absolutely crazy and as exaggerated as possible. But with ancient, true-looking pictures. If I tell my version only with words, no one would believe it. But with photos, it could be proven.”
By exaggerating the details of the story and photographs (which are clearly not authentic despite being made to look old), Herbrich is certainly poking fun at the massive suspension of disbelief that goes into even considering such conspiracy theories.
Because of the way Herbrich styled his photos (in black-and-white, with people wearing period clothing, and the “prints” themselves having jagged edges), he found that many people were fooled into believing his story.
He explained, “… A lot of my audience is in love with conspiracy theories! There are two kinds of audience [members]: those who see the pictures and text and stay quiet (the believers and conspiracy theorists), and the others, who laugh out loud and understand they are fake from the beginning—they buy the book.”
Due to the blurred lines explored in the project, Herbrich has received interesting rejections from publishers who say things like, “… the main problem was, ‘Is it comedy, or is it science? We don’t know, in which section we can use it.’ ”