Most space aficionados worth their salt would be able to name the first dog in space, Laika, but most would stall beyond ‘Belka and Strelka’ and few would expect to find a book on the subject of Space Dog collectibles. Martin Parr, whose more than 100 books on photography include one called ‘Boring Postcards’, is “hooked” on space dog ephemera and this little book is the result.
According to Parr, the mind-boggling variety of memorabilia, which includes clocks, cigarette cases, ornaments and myriad dog-related items, helped to validate Russia as the superior power in the Cold War. This, in itself, is quite a statement, but the author goes as far as to compare the Soviet space dogs with The Beatles and Mickey Mouse, “those Western icons that generated huge quantities of memorabilia”. Anyway, Parr’s book is the result of his “20-year obsession” with space dog collectables.
Following introductory sections entitled “one man and his space dog” and “dogs with the right stuff”, there are short chapters on the above-mentioned canine heroes and a concluding section on the “legacy of the space dogs”, which apparently “cannot be overstated”; and “Moon dogs” which, quite frankly, is!
Although much of the text is reminiscent of Soviet propaganda of the time, the variety of space dog memorabilia speaks for itself through Parr’s images. I have no particular affinity with dogs - space or otherwise - but I had to smile at the incongruity of the porcelain Belka and Strelka wearing cosmonaut suits and breathing apparatus; and the rocket-shaped porcelain rocket with the canine duo peering out of its portholes – Delft it isn’t, but it has a certain charm.