Caught Our Eyes: Airplanes Aloft with Imagination

When I refile pictures that researchers have recently been consulting, I’m almost guaranteed to run across at least one that demands a second look. My first thought upon seeing this picture, which was copyrighted in 1920, was: How frightening would it have been to be on the streets of Portland, Oregon, when these airplanes swooped overhead?

Portland, Oregon, 1920. Photo copyrighted by C. S. Woodruff, 1920. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a40211

Portland, Oregon, 1920. Photo copyrighted by C. S. Woodruff, 1920. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a40211

The answer is: not frightening at all, because it turns out this is a composite photograph depicting an event that never happened. “Composite” photographs are made by combining two or more negatives into a single picture. Portland-based photographer C.S. Woodruff apparently was fascinated by airplanes and envisioned a day when they would be as affordable as automobiles. He shared his vision by creating a picture that merged separate images to populate the skies over downtown Portland.

One of my colleagues noted the visual parallel to another imaginative swarm of airplanes: this display of model airplanes decorating the ceiling of the train concourses at Union Station in Chicago in 1943, when military aircraft were more on peoples’ minds than the potential for personalized air transport.

Chicago, Illinois. Model airplanes decorate the ceiling of the train concourses at Union Station. Photo by Jack Delano, 1943 Feb. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.00253

Chicago, Illinois. Model airplanes decorate the ceiling of the train concourses at Union Station. Photo by Jack Delano, 1943 Feb. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.00253

Together, the two images suggest that when some people look up, they see a blank slate begging to be filled.

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One Comment

  1. Emil
    July 12, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I love LOC!

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