Photographs by Andrew Rovenko
Essay by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
For one family living in Melbourne, Australia while experiencing a 6th lockdown during a global pandemic, they made irreplaceable family experiences and fueled their creativity. Photographer Andrew Rovenko and his wife, Mariya, found inspiration in their daughter's imagination. Fueled by a mother and father’s love and devotion for their daughter, Rocketgirl Chronicles were born. The time spent together, and the connections they made are the true successes that will remain with them long after the pandemic is over. These adventures became the places where dreams really do come true, especially for Rocketgirl. Mia Rovenko is a four year old astronaut from earth, with a fascination with the night sky, the universe, and exploring her place in it. Andrew and Mariya felt that the lockdown was the perfect time to make their astronaut a helmet out of paper mache, and sew her a spacesuit to go with it. The empty landscapes and spaces of a city in it’s 6th lockdown became other worlds in Mia’s universe or space stations and rocketships. These chronicles document not only her curiosity and exploration in outer space, but gives her knowledge and a greater understanding and appreciation for the universe she lives in.
Mia Rovenko was thirsty for knowledge of the universe. Andrew says “Mia would constantly ask me to show videos, and read books about all things space. Facts about planets, their cores, temperatures, sizes. Then we would continue on to stars, nebulas, galaxies, and every object Mia became aware of.” Andrew admits that his new job as mission control for his little astronaut was challenging at times. Mia would question him to the extent he no longer had the answer, and he was thankful for google and a quick response.
Their very first exploration to another planet was a neighbour's empty block of land overgrown with weeds, chosen because it was the closest “alienated” place Andrew says. When I asked Andrew how this photography project started, if there was a plan to take his camera and document the exploration, was it part of the mission?, Andrew told me he never intended for this to be a photography project, so the camera did not have a special role, except to capture some valuable family memories. Even now they don’t always take the camera, and sometimes even if they do, not one photo is taken, holding those memories in their heart and soul.
Andrew told me the locations are both spontaneous, as well as planned. He says, “Often we’d venture out somewhere where we planned, but found something even more interesting along the way and never reached the original destination.” Andrew says that some places that held more meaning than others were places that left a big first impression. They would revisit those places multiple times because he noted, “Repetition is one of the keys to learning. Unpredictable as to what will impress a child, a little experience can be a big experience.” Examples Andrew gives are, a campfire on a beach, a taxi repair shop, and a floating dock that rises together with the tide. Andrew goes on to say “ They are portals to more questions, and learnings about how the world operates.”
Mia’s mission is always the same, Exploration! According to Andrew, “Going to the unknown, or semi unknown places, finding new things, figuring out how, what, and why, experimenting, trying, and learning is what inspired Mia. Then she would apply those learnings and conclusions from her experiments some more, in a way, no different to real scientists and astronauts. Mia is also using her imagination, thinking creatively, and critically, something that we often lose when we grow up.” I asked Andrew how the missions ended, he told me “There’s no “On”, or “Off”, but Mia’s experiences are interwoven. In a way there is no pretense, or duality, it’s just Mia who is a little astronaut when she goes out on astronaut business.” Like most children, Andrew says, Mia is always wanting just one more exploration into her imagination, often extending her mission by a few hours. Sometimes Mia’s explorations led to terrific finds and geological specimens from the planets and universes she visited, like moon rocks, spaceship bolts, remote control sticks, and other miscellaneous objects of discovery that day. But as a respectful space traveler, Mia leaves nothing behind but the shadows of their footprints.
When one looks at these images, they are solitary moments in a desolate forgotten landscape, void of humanity other than what we have left behind. Yet there is light on a young vulnerable face, reflecting the hopes and dreams of a bright future. Her youth and innocence protected from the past and present, remain the inspiration and catalyst for a better tomorrow. Andrew says, “For every parent, the future of their child is something that’s a constant worry, and also a hope. They go hand and hand and it's always been this way, especially in current times.” Andrew prefers the viewers to make their own interpretations of the work, without clouding their judgement allowing the viewer to determine their own perspective. For him, “All our perceptions are true to us because of our own personalities, experiences and biases, irrespectively of the author’s original intent.” Andrew believes there is no right or wrong, and if the photographs evoke emotion or provoke thought, that is all he could hope for.
This project was a family collaboration, being a positive influence in difficult times, becoming the glue that is making impressionable family memories. The time they spent together and the connections they made, Andrew feels are priceless, especially at that age. He firmly believes, “As bad as the pandemic is, everything has positives, and in some cases even outweigh the negatives.” The pandemic has allowed the opportunity for Andrew to stay and work from home, making his commute to work time, their adventure time. Andrew and Mariya hope that the connections they have all built, will remain with them all for a lifetime. These chronicles are a tribute to a family's strength in hard times, and inspiration on how to find the possible in the seemingly impossible.
Andrew Rovenko is a photographer and creative technologist, originally from Odessa Ukraine. Andrew moved to Melbourne Australia more than fifteen years ago, where he now works and lives. Andrew started his family here and shares his life with his wife Mariya, an artist with a degree in theater costume design, and his four year old daughter Mia, Rocketgirl.