In Advance of the Landing

Douglas Curran. In Advance of the Landing: folk concepts of outer space. 2nd edition. Abbeville Press, 2001.

The publication of a new edition of the one of ufology's long out-of-print and impossible to find classics is to be welcomed. Canadian photographer Douglas Curran spent much of the late 70's and early 80's driving around the North American continent looking for outer-space based folk art, home-made flying saucers and backyard rockets to photograph. He searched out and documented the closing years of the old contactee movement and related small town revelations. He looked upon them with a gentle if ironic eye, letting some of their absurdities speak for themselves.

After 16 years the second edition takes note of Roswell and abductions, and you can tell from the tone of the introduction to the second edition that recent developments don't meet with his approval. He sees a dream of hope and optimism going sour, being swallowed by a sea of paranoia.

The photographs reveal the world of kitsch art, nowhere more so than in the over-the-top camp costumes of the Unarius Foundation, and its former leader Ruth Norman, who resembled a sort of grotesque hybrid of Barbara Cartland and Dame Edna Everage! (Can't you just see Elton John becoming one of their converts?) Compared with them, the backyard UFO builders have a naive authenticity about them.

Behind the various groups and individuals featured, one can detect a common theme, the attempt to reconcile the modern world of high tech and space rockets with the world of old time small town religion. Curran calls it nostalgia for the future, a future that is much simpler, safer and less problematic than the chaotic and confusing present.

In his introduction Tom Wolfe argues that these groups operate like most religions, on the belief that behind the phenomenal world and the "physical order of the physicists and economists" there lies the Other Order, "that determines the fate of man and creates the music of the spheres". Today in our technological world the Other Order is presented as super technology. But it is not the invisible and unknowable Other Order which draws our attention, it is the attempt of the plain (often very plain) folks to rise above the banal ordinariness of their lives. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, first published on-line, May 2002.

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