Imagine the images on social media when one of our modern space-travel pioneers — whether it’s Bezos or Musk or Branson — actually gets us there. Random pictures of sunsets on Earth will be replaced by otherworldly content.
To cruise through the Instagram feed of Jamie Lawson, or @prahaboy as he calls himself, is to look at a journey that appears to have already happened. And we’ve all been left behind.
Lawson calls himself a modern digital artist, and through his manipulated photographic work he has traveled to the far reaches of space and seen things we’ve only seen when beamed back by distant satellites or projected through our favorite science-fiction films.
A one-time newspaper journalist, Lawson is a father of two who now works as a curriculum and catalog coordinator at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. In his free time he’s in a galaxy far, far away from that small city north of Seattle.
“My mind is usually elsewhere in the solar system or universe,” Lawson said, laughing during a phone interview this week with GeekWire. “I take pictures and I make them into celestial magic type stuff.”
He has a strong grasp of astronomical terms, and he uses them in photo captions to add to the illusion that while we were all photographing our lunch he was watching an astronaut wade out of the waters of Trappist-1d.
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Aquarius II | Reaching the distant shores of Trappist-1d. Anyways, the streak of not posting an image with a planet or moon has ended at 50 days. 😮 – #sombrebeings #enter_imagination #creativegrammer #gramslayers #artofvisuals #tv_editz #exoplanet #creative #space #ocean #unionapp #fx_hdr #theimaged #agameoftones #agameof10k #bestoftheday #planet #nasa #ocean #universe #space
Lawson’s work (he’s got a regular website, too) is created mostly through his own photography, shot pretty much on an iPhone these days. Landscapes such as beaches or mountains, trees, clouds, fields and cityscapes are manipulated and layered with other images, or illustrations. He lists a host of mobile apps that he relies on: Mextures, Union, Snapseed, Glitche, Plotaverse, Alien Sky, Matter, Fragment, Tangent, Deco Sketch and more.
He also uses Adobe Creative Cloud desktop apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator and he’s been experimenting with Lightroom lately. When he does grab an image that isn’t his — like an astronaut — they come from NASA and/or the European Space Agency public domain, or Unsplash.
Lawson didn’t study art or photography formally. He was influenced, he thinks subconsciously, by the fact that his step father was an abstract artist who taught at the University of Washington and elsewhere.
Lawson has exhibited his work, and some of it has shown up on album covers for bands he said we probably haven’t heard of. It’s easy to see how Pink Floyd or ELO would have kept him busy if he’d come of age in the 1970s.
When NASA’s InSight Lander touched down on Mars at the end of November, the first images sent back only provided further inspiration to Lawson. He posted a photograph he shot from an airplane, manipulated to look like the surface of the Red Planet.
“The funny thing is, I wish I was an astronaut exploring the universe and everything, but I don’t like to fly,” Lawson said, adding that he’s pretty sure he would still say yes if given the chance to reach space on a Blue Origin or SpaceX rocket.
He tried it, sort of, during a trip to Disney World in Florida last year on a ride called Mission: Space at Epcot Center.
“When I found out about it I was like, ‘I want to go on that!,'” Lawson said. “And, man, did I not feel good. It was great, it was pretty realistic. I chose the most extreme g-force option. A few days after that I had a little better appreciation for someone who sits on top of a powerful rocket.”
Lawson was an associate producer on “In Saturn’s Rings,” a large-format movie that came out this year and was made using real images taken by Hubble, Cassini and other NASA telescopes. He designed the poster for the movie and handled social media responsibilities.
Over the years he was inspired by classic films such as “Blade Runner” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” — sci-fi that relies on more realistic art direction. He watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and he and his oldest daughter both like “Interstellar.”
“If she ever wanted to be an astronaut I’d be all for it,” he said of the 13-year-old.
On some level, her dad could probably tell her what she should expect to see.