Martin Parr’s Space Dogs celebrates the real heroes of the space race

Known for his vast range of kitsch memorabilia, Martin Parr’s new book Space Dogs showcases his collection of objects that pay tribute to Russia’s iconic canine cosmonauts

It’s 1957. The USA and the USSR are in the throes of an intense space race. Russia is about to successfully launch its first cosmonaut into orbit. Its unassuming hero, Laika, has four legs. She’s a stray mongrel.

After becoming the first animal to orbit the earth, Laika never made it back to ground, but she would go on to make national headlines around the world and left a legacy of national pride. Her face was plastered on all kinds of propaganda objects and she was portrayed as up there with the likes of Soviet revolutionary heroes.

© ITAR-TASS News Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

However, several years later, Laika would be outshone by her successors Belka and Strelka, also strays found on the streets. In 1960, on the USSR’s second orbit attempt, Belka and Strelka became the first creatures to be launched into space and safely return back to earth in the Sputnik 5 mission. Their arrival sparked national jubilation, the furry duo rubbing paws with well-known figures and making international television appearances, where their lives and health post-orbit was paraded for the world to see.

With the news came a veritable influx of celebratory memorabilia, ranging from various books about the canine icons to coins, clocks and confectionery boxes emblazoned with their faces. It was only a matter of time, then, before Martin Parr got his hands on it.

Parr is almost as much an unrelenting collector as he is a celebrated photographer, and he often includes ephemera from his vast range of memorabilia in his exhibitions. These objects add to the image we have of Parr and his work, and to the images Parr takes of the world.

Dr. Oleg Glazenko holding Strelka and Belka © SPUTNIK / Alamy Stock Photo

His obsession was born during his childhood, when he amassed coins and stamps and stored them in his cellar, marking the beginnings of an affinity for the peculiarities of the everyday – both in his photography and his collection of objects. Thatcher-themed plates, Saddam Hussein watches and Spice Girls crisp packets all figure among his personal selection of memorabilia. It should come as no surprise that a man who became known in part for his seaside photography would pick up some souvenirs along the way.

Parr’s new book Space Dogs commemorates his fascination with the various items that came out of Russia following the dogs’ respective missions, their stories – sometimes tragic – told by space journalist Richard Hollingham. A piece of memorabilia in itself, the book cements these unlikely Soviet stars in the annals of space history.

Space Dogs is published by Laurence King and out on June 10;