CULTURE & ARTS

Photographers Team Up To Explore The Modern UFO Myth

Is alien life a conspiracy theory or a modern-day religion?
Frank Kinbler, an assistant professor of Earth sciences at New Mexico Military Institute, is working in his spare time to bri
Frank Kinbler, an assistant professor of Earth sciences at New Mexico Military Institute, is working in his spare time to bring forth scientifically correct evidence from the Roswell crash site.

Frank Kimbler teaches geology and Earth sciences at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. In his spare time, he attempts to find evidence of the purported UFO crash that occurred in 1947. According to Open Minds, a UFO news source, Kimbler has allegedly collected plastic and metal debris, some of which shows signs of being made "off planet."

We probably won't live to find out definitively whether we are not alone in the universe, whether extraterrestrial life is indeed a reality. But perhaps just as interesting as the question of whether or not a little green man is hovering above us in a cylindrical spacecraft is why so many Americans tell this story to begin with. 

In their upcoming photo book "Phenomena," photographers Tobias Selnaes Markussen, Sara Galbiati and Peter Helles Eriksen -- known together as the Phenomena Collective -- examine how we as a culture molded this particular and peculiar myth of alien life. As shown in the compassionate yet unbiased images, the artists are interested less in the validity of the stories of extraterrestrial sightings and more in the collective imagination that shapes them. 

Melinda Leslie has a money-back guarantee on her UFO tours in Sedona, Arizona.
Melinda Leslie has a money-back guarantee on her UFO tours in Sedona, Arizona.

"What makes the UFO phenomena?" the photographers ask on Kickstarter. "Is it just a commercially profitable story, a delusion with social consequences, a religious myth or even a physical phenomenon?" Journeying through Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, Markussen, Galbiati and Eriksen piece together a contemporary collage of the UFO myth, framing the belief as a powerful alternate religion in which no one is truly ever alone. 

Working together as a collective, the artists document real-life individuals who believe in alien life and work to spread their truth, whether through research or guided tours. Other photos depict various pieces of evidence from specific UFO sightings and crashes. Framed as an anthropological study and presented from a fictional perspective, the images don't demand that the viewer determine them true or false. Rather, the photographs create an intriguing story of an radical belief system, that, over time, seems to be gaining more and more traction and respect. 

Lyle Michel attends a gathering at the home of self-proclaimed paranormal therapist Miesha Johnston in Las Vegas.
Lyle Michel attends a gathering at the home of self-proclaimed paranormal therapist Miesha Johnston in Las Vegas.

For example, last year Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA, announced her belief that society is just decades away from getting the evidence we need to confirm the existence of alien life. "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years ... We know where to look. We know how to look. In most cases, we have the technology, and we're on a path to implementing it. And so I think we're definitely on the road."

Phenomena Collective's photos capture this kind of belief at the crucial moment when fantasy could start to look more like truth, examining just why and how this shift is occurring. 

While most often, outside of UFO-obsessed circles, those who believe in extraterrestrials are presented as ignorant, naive or just plain weird, the Phenomena Collective withholds all judgment, positive or negative, and simply presents the beauty and strangeness of this growing subculture as is. As presented by the photographers, UFO mythology is not an outlying belief in American thought. Something about the story has woven itself into the dominant cultural imagination, and that's more powerful than any flying saucer could ever be. 

The Phenomena Collective is currently raising funds to publish their photo book on Kickstarter. Although they've already reached their goal of $12,000, every dollar helps, and you still have until Monday, May 9, to donate to this out-of-this-world cause. 

Former CIA pilot John Lear, known as The Godfather of Conspiracy, takes a nap in his office on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
Former CIA pilot John Lear, known as The Godfather of Conspiracy, takes a nap in his office on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
L-R: Suitcase containing material from the UFO crash site in Roswell; former CIA pilot John Lear's helmet; and a book with dr
L-R: Suitcase containing material from the UFO crash site in Roswell; former CIA pilot John Lear's helmet; and a book with drawings of encounters.
Melinda Leslie's UFO Tours.
Melinda Leslie's UFO Tours.
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