The photographer reimagines the American flag that Buzz Aldrin flew to the moon on Apollo 11 in 1969 as a flag taken instead by the fictional Gay Space Agency.
2024 Photo Contest, North and Central America, Open Format

The Gay Space Agency


Mackenzie Calle

The photographer reimagines the American flag that Buzz Aldrin flew to the moon on Apollo 11 in 1969 as a flag taken instead by the fictional Gay Space Agency.

This project combines fiction with fact in order to confront the American space program’s historical exclusion of openly LGBTQI+ astronauts. After reviewing the NASA and United States National Archives, the photographer found no documentation on the contributions of the queer community to the space program. This conspicuous absence inspired her to create The Gay Space Agency, a diverse, inclusive fictional institution that paradoxically commemorates and celebrates the very real history of queer astronauts.

Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, said, "You can't be what you can't see,” a statement that took on new meaning after her passing in 2012. Despite her groundbreaking achievements, Dr. Ride's sexual orientation was kept private during her lifetime. Her story is a part of the history of the pervasive culture of silence within the space program.

NASA’s policy of silence and exclusion continues to have an effect today. A 2022 study revealed that LGBTQI+ NASA astronauts perceived that being open about their identity could jeopardize their chances of being selected for space missions. This project intricately knits together past, present, and future to highlight the struggles faced by LGBTQI+ individuals within the space industry and underscore the urgent need for greater representation and inclusivity.

Through a blend of archival documentation, manipulated imagery, staged photos, and collage, this project offers both a critical examination of historical realities and a visionary glimpse into a more inclusive future. By layering images in a manner reminiscent of the visual language of space exploration, the project invites viewers to reconsider the past while imagining new possibilities for LGBTQI+ representation on this planet and beyond. 

Project funded with support from the Magnum Foundation Counter Histories Grant.

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Mackenzie Calle
About the photographer

Mackenzie Calle is a freelance visual storyteller based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work often blurs the line between documentary and fiction to explore forgotten histories and queer experiences. She is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Cinema Studies and was awarded the Director&rsq...

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Jury comment

The jury thoroughly enjoyed this creative and witty project, discovering new details and references each time they revisited the images. The photographer skillfully tackles an underrepresented story, using sci-fi elements to highlight the irony of homophobia within the realm of space exploration. Addressing a critical topic with a fresh approach and clear message.