Secret underground pyramids. Extraterrestrial visitations. Government cover-ups. These and other conspiracy theories are the stock-in-trade of Ancient Aliens, one of the longest-running and most popular programs on History, the cable network formerly known as the History Channel. As part of History’s prime-time lineup, the show has developed a rabid fan following and even inspired a convention, AlienCon, which recently attracted over 15,000 enthusiasts to Baltimore for three days of lectures, celebrity appearances, and vendor showcases.
Brooklyn-based photographer Kellyann Petry, a self-professed agnostic on the alien question, attended the first day of this fall’s convention to learn more about the show’s followers. She had seen Ancient Aliens a few times, and even though it has been described as “some of the most noxious sludge in television’s bottomless chum bucket,” she tried to approach the event with an open mind. “I wasn’t there to make any decisions about my personal beliefs,” Petry explains. “I wanted to be fair to everyone. These people take it very seriously, and I didn’t want to make a mockery of it.”
At the convention, Petry photographed both presenters, such as the show’s host, Giorgio Tsoukalos (“he’s like a god—they love him”) and ordinary attendees, who had traveled from all over the country to mingle with the like-minded. Although people differed on which particular theories they favored, no one doubted that aliens had visited the earth at some point. “I did not meet a single skeptic,” Petry says.
Most of the conference attendees, Petry noticed, were middle-aged or older—perhaps not surprising given the demographics of basic cable viewers and the fact that conference tickets ranged from $61 for a day pass to $700 for a “Gold Pass” that included a private event with stars of the show. “The fact that I was only going for one day was lunacy to them,” Petry says. “This is their Super Bowl.”
Petry met several convention-goers who had taken vacations to sites with supposed extraterrestrial connections: “One couple had just got back from Mexico to visit the pyramids, which are believed to be landmarks created by aliens. They were also going to Peru, which is apparently another hotspot for alien tourists.” The photographer also attended a panel discussion for people who claimed alien encounters, including one couple who only discovered after they got married that they had independently received such a visit.
Although most of the people she met were friendly, Petry said she received some strange looks when she was taking pictures. “People seemed to be able to sense if you were there to gawk or if you were there because you wanted to be,” she says. “As much as they believe in this world [of ancient aliens], they’re definitely skeptical of their fellow humans.”