I feel a little like a dog, being a hundred when I’m only 34.
And seeing as how I have hit the century mark, I like others here, have the opportunity to look back on many things, to muse, and to ask myself things like: have I improved in any way as a photographer? What have I learned from others here? What do I think of the screeners? And do I really want to open that kind of worm can? So I ask you, move on to something more enlightening or sit a while and listen to Deaner’s thoughts as they move awkwardly to the page.
Limits. They seem to be all four sides of me. For the most part, I cannot take photos of moving aircraft. I need a lot of time to set up my camera. The number of airlines that use my airport is relatively small. I cannot afford long lenses, cannot use very long lenses and the lenses I do use do not function very well at small apertures. Needless to say, the shutter speeds I require are usually marked in seconds, the depth of field is usually very deep and hence the scope of photographs in my portfolio is still pretty narrow. But I thank all of those who have emailed me with their kind remarks despite the limited variety of my shots. I think the most profound observation of my photos made by an a.net commentator was that in them aircraft seem to live in a world without humans. The kindest thing anyone ever said about my ramp shots was that he felt like he was walking out on to the tarmac when he looked at them. I wish like the Dickens that I could take photos of flying aircraft like Joe Pries and others do. I wish I could take photos of Vancouver’s tower with a full moon beside it—the way I’ve seen it on many a gorgeous Vancouver night. What’s left to me is to record the most technically proficient photos I can on the ground, rain or shine, day or night. I love walking around aircraft and following their lines. I love the wide-open spaces of the airfield and how each arriving aircraft carries with it a different story. I have just purchased a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon so I promise to tell a different kind of story in the near future.
Self-assessment is one of the hardest things in this world to do; that’s why I always laugh at myself when I think, “I could write a book.” Anyone who is willing to put his thoughts on paper and have them willingly criticized by someone else is a strong character in my opinion. And it’s no more difficult for a photographer to submit to a screener; otherwise there wouldn’t be as much rancour as there is on the boards over rejection. I’m no stranger to the feeling and I understand objective comments like “image is too small” but I hate subjective comments like “image is too dark.” But photographs are like children and when someone tells you your child has a funny face you take exception. Like many a writer and photographer of the past, though, when I have had the time to reflect, I have often agreed with the editor. There are times, indeed, when after I have placed them in the queue and had a chance to review them, I have prayed like anything that the photos would be rejected by Rindt, et al. A relieved sigh escapes me when they are. Someone out there will no doubt create a site that revels in the avant-garde of aircraft photography and when they do, many of us will find an outlet for our interestingly-framed, coloured, positioned, shaded, angled and in all other ways artistic photographs. ‘Till then, however, we’re just going to have to “bite the bullet,” “suck it up” or whatever other tired cliché we can find, fight the rectitude, and keep pushing Johan’s envelope and the screeners inside it.
One of the greatest things about the Internet, and perhaps it’s the greatest, is that if you like something, be it hockey, cooking, Care Bears, or slivovitz, there are thousands of others world-wide who will put up on the Web all that they know and love about it for free. And airliners.net is no exception. A lazy afternoon can in a few ways (apart from actually taking photographs) better be served than by a quick glance at the site—the latest photographs and latest word on them. There are obviously some professional photographers in here and there are obviously some not-so-professional photographers but the interplay between them is always entertaining, if not downright informative. The site, though not dedicated in any way solely to aircraft photography, is nevertheless a fine place to see real-world examples from, say, the latest digital technology. What to me is the most interesting thing about the diatribe and discussion here is how it plays out in relation to the historical perspective—how it makes us very much people of our own time.
Photographers of the distant past, who made contact prints from negatives as large as 20 X 24 inches, would frown with consternation that we were even talking here about our so-called photos and high-quality prints be they made from 35mm or 12 megapixel cameras. To them our much faster shutter speeds, colour films, ability to see the images instantly and the all-around superior convenience of the modern camera would have been too high a price to pay for such tiny images. Even today, photographers like Clyde Butcher are happiest when they produce five-foot wide prints that show no grain.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Never has that been as aptly said as when it has been said of photography. ‘Pin sharp.’ ‘Tack sharp.’ If you had hung around this place long enough, you would have thought that those two descriptors were all it took to make a beautiful photograph. Famous photographers there have been who have indeed despaired when they could not count every needle on their print of a Bristlecone Pine. But award-winning photographers there have been who have gone out of their way to fill their photos with grain or to blur them subtly or dramatically. Ansel Adams prints with which one could have once walked away for twenty-five dollars now run into the hundreds of thousands. Who’s to say why? The same person who would pay ten bucks for a rotating 777 wouldn’t pay a fig for yet another shot of El Capitan by the American master. I’ve seen award-winning photographs taken with the very best equipment whose subject matter is indecipherable. I’ve seen much-lauded but blurry-on-purpose shots taken with the world’s sharpest and most expensive ‘digital’ lenses. I’ve seen museum pieces which look like they were taken by accident or by someone who couldn’t see and I’ve heard highly-thought-of artistic photographers denigrate the work of those who make their living photographing industrial machines or retail products. Some folks are proudest when they take that great opportunistic photo; others beam when they sweat for that perfect shot; others are happiest when they use the best equipment money can buy; others chuckle when on a shoestring they capture that once-in-a-lifetime image. The best image each of us has taken is the purest and most unassailable because we haven’t taken it yet.
“Yes, but this photo is more impressive because it was a lot harder to take.” Has anyone ever heard this as an argument or defence in these discussion groups? What does it mean? Mark Garfinkel’s name has come up numerous times because you can see both registration numbers and the Sea of Tranquility in his gothic telephoto shots of aircraft and the moon-goddess. He has modern lenses, high-speed film, a steady hand, a sharp eye, spare time and composition proficiency: does that mean his photos are ‘better,’ ‘more beautiful,’ or ‘superior’ to the less well-known a.net holiday snapper who shoots a cock-eyed DC-3 on some ancient airfield in rural Kentucky? I remember the first photograph I ever saw of a doomed airliner, American Airlines flight 191, which slammed into the ground after losing its number one engine in 1979. This photograph is poorly composed, chalk-full of grain, out-of-focus and overexposed but it is beautiful and terrifying. What if Mr. Garfinkel one day finds that his photos are no longer hard to take? What if they become routine to him? Does this make them any less striking? I do not believe that if two people build an identical cherry wood French provincial dining room table that the one more beautiful is the one whose builder struggled to build it.
The truly amazing thing to me is the fact that we are still are fascinated with this centuries old thing called photography—engaging in conversation with others, forming clubs, organizing swap meets, venturing out on eco-shoots, angered at those who disparage our work, frustrated with the computers and the chemistry, bragging of megapixels or autowinders, bemoaning dead batteries, crying when our children open the darkroom door, discovering aspherics, or shouting “Yes!” when we nail that all important or lucky shot. In the end we are often humbled by a world that laughingly defies our supposed ability to take pictures of anything anytime.
It is a sobering thought, really, that memories once lived on only in peoples’ dreams, that before 1824, when Joseph-Nicéphore Niepce made what most people consider history’s first true photograph, our Great Aunt Angela and our 19th century cousin Roderick looked like our little baby Lynn only in our Grandpa George’s mind. We couldn’t actually see it. I think we take it ever so for granted that we can visually follow genetic lines, reminisce about past gatherings, smell the fields of a bygone day, weep once more over tragic events, and vow that, “Things are going to be different,” all by looking at a photograph on or off our monitors.
As I pass the century mark and push for the millennium in years to come, I want to pay tribute to all those scientists, dreamers, artists, businessmen and probably billions of photographers who have made this process of light-writing the finest, toughest, frustrating, rewarding—coolest hobby in the world.