New Series by Barbara Diener

Barbara Diener's new series The Rocket's Red Glare, has been added to The Chicago Project! In the series, she follows the footsteps of two instrumental rocket scientists in the 1930s: Wernher von Braun in Germany and Jack Parsons in Pasadena, CA. One went on to develop the V2 rocket for Hitler and the Saturn V for NASA. The other made groundbreaking contributions to the development of rocket fuel but was also second in command of Aleister Crowley’s occult religion, Ordo Templi Orientis, and was written out of NASA’s history for decades.

Holding Missile, Peenemünde, 1940/2019 © Barbara Diener

In 1932 Wernher von Braun went to work for the German army, which fell under National Socialist rule the following year. Accounts of when he joined the NAZI party vary but by 1937 he was the technical director of the Army Rocket Center in Peenemünde where the V2 rocket (Vengeance Weapon 2) was created and tested. After the war, when von Braun was brought to the U.S. under the controversial Operation Paperclip, a government initiative to secure and extract German scientists, his talents were called upon by the U.S. military. He settled in Huntsville, AL with members of his original rocket team where they eventually developed the Saturn V and put the first man on the moon.

Jack Parsons was born and raised on Orange Grove Boulevard, also known as Millionaire’s Row, in Pasadena, CA. Although he never attended CalTech he spearheaded the selfproclaimed “Suicide Squad”, a group of CalTech students, who shared Parsons love for rocketry. In 1936 these founders of what would become the Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducted the first rocket tests in the Arroyo Seco, and were soon after commissioned by the U.S. Army Air Corps to develop “jet-assisted take-off” rockets. In the subsequent years Parsons became more and more involved with the Los Angeles chapter of the Ordo Templi Orientis and he opened up his home, the Parsonage, to an eclectic cast of characters. In 1942 Parsons cofounded the rocket and missile manufacturer Aerojet but by 1944 he was bought out and his affiliations with military and government projects were terminated. Parsons died tragically from fatal injuries after a presumed accidental explosion in his home laboratory.

“Suicide Squad,” Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, CA, 1936/2019 © Barbara Diener

To weave together a sense of these two complicated stories, Diener has photographed places of significance, made portraits referencing existing images, and appropriated archival material. Many of the titles for the photographs are taken from an untitled poem written by Parsons. Rather than presenting a complete view of this history, Diener poses questions, looking at the way that history is passed on through generations, and how facts are distorted, embellished, or undermined.

View more work from the series here.

Image: Rocket Test, Mojave Desert, 1942/2019 by Barbara DienerRocket Test, Mojave Desert, 1942/2019 © Barbara Diener
Mission Control, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, 2019 © Barbara Diener