The gods of flight

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It was about 25 years ago, and I don’t remember why I was waiting in the almost deserted, dimly lit ticket hall at what was then called Washington National Airport.

Spotlights in the ceiling made pools of light on the deep red carpet. A young boy, waiting like me, was jumping from pool to pool, twisting his body, almost dancing. I had a camera with me, so to pass the time, I started to take pictures.

I shot frame after frame, trying to capture the boy’s joyful abandon, as he danced down the ticket hall and back again. Then suddenly he stopped and went down on one knee to tie his shoelace. It was as if he were performing an act of obeisance to the gods of flight. It was unexpected and not what I was trying for; nonetheless, it was the Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment.”

I was shooting Ilford HP5, no tripod, and judging by the grain in the negatives, I pushed the film to 800 ISO (which I think we still called ASA or DIN in those days), knowing the exposure would, even so, be too long for a crisp image. When I made the first print in the darkroom, I was disappointed. The image was, as I’d anticipated, too soft. But returning to it every so often over the years and printing it again, I grew to like its softness and dreamlike quality.

Sometimes the images we find most satisfying are not the images we intended to make.

6 Responses to The gods of flight

  1. transall says:


    C’est ce qui fait tout le charme de la photographie à mes yeux, même aujourd’hui avec les appareils photo numérique dont nous disposons.

    De retour après une sortie photo dans Paris, je trouve que l’un des moments les plus intéressants est de découvrir les clichés une fois transférés sur l’ordinateur. Parfois on est déçu, et parfois une ou deux photos se révélent très réussies et “sortent du lot” comme on dit ici en France.



  2. Thiên says:

    Wow, I love this photo. It is very powerful and stops you in your tracks. It’s amazing when you can spontaneously capture moments such as this.

  3. bob says:

    Very beatiful. True, things are best when not forced.

  4. Louz says:

    You definitely captured a Cartier-Bresson moment here, not at all an easy thing to do. Very evocative.

  5. Dan says:

    Indeed, this is one of my favorites of all the photos I’ve seen on your blog. It’s striking!

    And speaking of airport photos, I snapped one yesterday in Reagan National – not nearly as artistically as yours… Mine is of a poster on the wall reminding people not to touch or damage the coral off the coast of Florida. Paid for by NOAA. It’s near the baggage claim area… and as I said, it’s in DC’s Reagan National airport…

    Why remind people who are coming to DC to not touch coral in Florida? Our tax dollars at work, right?

  6. Dan says:

    Oh – I almost took a photo of a security guard wanding an 80 year old woman (which struck me as remarkably absurd), but I was a bit nervous that I’d get arrested or have my camera confiscated…

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