Eli Meir Kaplan became a photographer for a simple reason: he wanted to meet people from backgrounds different from his own. He had always been interested in making home movies and watching films, and paired with his curiosity for how others live, he began to explore documentary and portrait photography. His stories have ranged from “Washington Drag Queens” for Washingtonian Magazine, where he photographed studio portraits of drag queens in and out of drag, to “Girls with Guns” for Marie Claire UK, where he photographed three women from Virginia who who openly and legally carry guns as part of the “Open Carry” movement. Kaplan’s imagery tends to focus on real people carrying out their lives, but his latest personal project is a departure from his comfort zone, exploring the lives of otherworldly travellers.
Science fiction has always intrigued Kaplan, from Star Wars to Alien to the television show Lost in Space. Growing up in the 80s Kaplan says, “I was always really fascinated by the behind the scenes specials about science fiction and fantasy movies.” He was also drawn to the style and conventions of 1960s science fiction magazine covers, particularly Amazing Stories, where the strangeness of space served as exciting illustrations for the stories within.
Kaplan decided to expand his production skills through a science fiction inspired shoot, taking all of these interests and creating a fictional narrative titled Space Explorers. “The idea was to have two travelers from outer space exploring unfamiliar terrain, searching for something or information they could bring back to their home planet,” he explains. He found his talent through T.H.E. Artist Agency and hired wardrobe stylist Stara Pezeshkian and hair and make up artist Lauren Ruth Ward to work on the project with him. Editorial and commercial photographer Jonathan Hanson also lent a hand to the project, helping Kaplan and his crew on location at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland.
Kaplan sourced a pair of space helmets from a props builder, who constructed them based on a design found on an online replica props forum. He also put together a mood board featuring mod style and space age men as reference for his team. Using all natural light, Kaplan photographed the talent as they explored the land and looked across the sea, unfamiliar with the planet on which they had landed.
Despite the thematic departure, Kaplan stays true to his shooting style, not opting for the heavy stylization or dramatic moments akin to the Amazing Stories covers. The simplicity keeps the narrative mysterious and subtle, with a sense of longing in the subjects’ eyes as they gaze out across the unknown. Kaplan is a documentary photographer at heart, and a similar thread can be found in all of his work: a simple curiosity to understand where others come from.
For more of Eli Meir Kaplan’s work, visit his Web site.