Sponsored by

Gaia Squarci’s “Mars on Earth”

Posted by on June 24, 2016 | Photographer Interviews

What would it be like to live on Mars? Photographer Gaia Squarci only had to travel 7,900 miles—as opposed to 35-50 million miles—to answer that question through her series “Mars on Earth.”

HI-SEAS is a series of missions, each progressively longer, that monitors the psychological effects of humans in pro-longed isolation. It takes place in a dome nestled on the slope of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Writer Laurence Cornet became fascinated by the missions and “dragged” Squarci into the story with her; it was the perfect project for the two. “We have in common the predilection for surreal, specific stories that can open a conversation on broader themes,” Squarci says.

Squarci had no idea what to expect going in. The mission, HI-SEAS III, kept the six crew members intentionally isolated for eight months, and Squarci and Cornet scheduled their trip from Milan to coincide with the crew’s “arrival” back to Earth on June 13, 2015. The two were part of the first group that met with the researchers, who’d had no outside human contact since October. Squarci’s photo essay is quite literally a reenactment of their simulation, as they were walked through their daily activities inside of the dome.

But true to her style, the series is imbued with mystery and ambiguity, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions; disbelief is temporarily suspended by the visual cues of the crater’s reddish ground and the presence of space suits, yet it feels as if the setting’s artifice, much like the ending of the film The Truman Show, will be revealed.

“Mars on Earth”—which has been published in Newsweek and The Guardian, among other publications—intends to play upon the motifs of science fiction that we are all familiar with, Squarci explains: “It was important for us to convey the human sense of the story: [a] sense of loneliness, [a lack] of points of reference, and the need to call somewhere ‘home.’”



Martha Lenio, commander of the NASA human performance study Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS). Lenio is the first woman ever in NASA history to command this kind of mission. June 13, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI


A landscape whose ground looks similar to the one that can be found on planet Mars is photographed on volcano Mauna Kea. Hawaii, Big Island. June 10, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI


Space suits are photographed inside the dome on volcano Mauna Loa. During the months of isolation the researchers can leave the dome only for brief excursions, wearing the spacesuits with a helmet and oxygen supply. June 14, 2015. ©GAIA SQUARCI


Light pollution coming from a star observatory on volcano Mauna Kea is visible in the night sky. Hawaii, Big Island. June 15, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI


Researcher Jocelyn Dunn is photographed in a room of the dome in the crater of Mauna Loa. June 16, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI


A dome where six researchers have been living for eight months in confinement is photographed in a crater on volcano Mauna Loa. June 14, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI


A salt cellar in the shape of an astronaut is photographed inside the dome. June 14, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI


Researcher Jocelyn Dunn looks out of the dome. June 16, 2015. ©GAIA SQUARCI


Researcher Jocelyn Dunn walks in her spacesuit—without a helmet—after the end of the HI-SEAS III mission. June 16, 2015. ©GAIA SQUARCI


A landscape with a dormant crater and a satellite is photographed from the top of the one-million-year-old volcano Mauna Kea, around 13,796 ft. above sea level. Hawaii, Big Island. June 16, 2015 ©GAIA SQUARCI

Read more interviews from our sister magazine, Emerging Photographer, at issuu.com. Submissions for Winter 2016 are open now at emerging photographer.com.