Local photographer has captured many space stories


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A collection of archival photography by Julian Leek.

All images taken by Julian Leek - © Julian Leek 2020

When it comes to space, Julian Leek has seen it all.

The 69-year-old Melbourne Beach resident first took photographs of the space program at age 17 as a stringer for the Miami Herald, which had bureaus in both Melbourne and Cocoa at the time.

“Being of the age when you come over here, and you’re thrust right into big rockets, and the first launch you go to see is Apollo 7, I got hooked pretty quickly,” said Leek, who moved during his teenage years from England to the United States. 

Since then, he’s been on the scene for hundreds of launches on the Space Coast since 1968. He photographed Apollo program launches — during which Leek notes “the community was alive,” to the shuttle program to the SpaceX’s historic manned Demo-2 Crew Dragon launch on May 30.

“The shuttle was the most fantastic thing which we’re never going to see fly. To put that together, to take it to orbit, take it to (the International Space) Station and bring it back and use it again over and over and over again is just fantastic. It’s a big machine.”

Leek has left Brevard County to get some of his images. For example, he went to California to photograph Space Shuttle Endeavor as it was towed through the streets of Los Angeles en route to the California Science Center in 2012. 

His photographs also have been featured on a host of publications’ front covers and his images have been seen globally.

“All over the world,” Leek said. “My photos have appeared in Russian websites, Russian newspapers, Croatia, one came in the other day from Croatia. Don’t ask me how they get a hold of them but I work for different organizations and they feed to these different countries. Australia’s a good market and obviously England and Europe as a whole.”

Leek has become so intertwined with the space program through the years that he says he feels the emotions of its ups and downs.

“You feel it all,” Leek said. “You feel the triumph and you’re up high on the pedestal thinking of how wonderful and then you have a disaster and you’ve still got to report it and take the photographs of it and caption it out for the world to see.”

When queried as to what his favorite photograph he’s taken is, Leek stated that it’s one in which he was afforded a unique perspective.

“The one from the top (of the launch tower) of Apollo 17, riding out to the pad. I … think there’s only a handful of people that have done that. Obviously today, nobody rides out. We have ridden out on a crawler, but on a mission it’s only limited people and I’ve had the privilege to ride out on the top of it.”

Leek also has had a vast amount of experience shooting photographs that aren’t space-related, like those in breaking news, political and meteorological realms among others.

Leek also took photos of the Norwegian Sun cruise ship in Cuba when it docked there in 2018.

“Mainly, I photograph news. So news, breaking news stories from anything around Florida or no matter where I am in the world. I’m always out there looking for a story that other people, countries might like,” Leek added. “The space program is here, but there’s a lot of other activities going on around the state of Florida, Melbourne area, Brevard County.”