Planespotting

`Over 100 people catapulted into the sky from a total standstill to 500 miles per hour...' American photographer Frank Schramm is passionate about planes. By Robin Muir
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Indy Lifestyle Online
In 1910, when aviation was still young, the 16-year-old Jacques- Henri Lartigue photographed the heroic efforts of his adored brother Zissou to fly in home-made kite-planes. "You stand straight up in the flying machine," he later wrote. "You run against the wind... you are lifted up in the air, and you glide... no, you soar like a seagull! Zissou is not discouraged by anything. He is determined to be airborne, to be like a balloon... up there."

Some 80 years later, the American fashion photographer, Frank Schramm, was seized by the same giddy romanticism. "I was in Paris to see the fashion shows," he explains. "I was having lunch with friends in Meaux, where the brie comes from, and I witnessed these incredible machines rising out of nowhere, against the horizon of farmers' fields, and I thought that this had to be documented."

His pictures are as graphic and precise as Lartigue's were delicate and instinctive, and made the more powerful by their sheer size - some are printed up to 30 inches square. This month, slightly smaller examples are on show at the Photographer's Gallery in London. The exhibition is called "Planespotting".

Schramm has been scanning the skies with a square-format Hasselblad for nearly a decade now. He expresses his childlike admiration with charming extravagance: "Standing under the machines as they land makes me realise the fragility of that which exists in man and his creative inventions." As if, one commentator noted, he had no right to admire these great metal birds simply for what they are.

He talks, like a hunter, of "stalking airplanes for days", and he knows the best hunting-grounds: "Washington National airport is the best place to photograph planes. There is a park very close to the airport, and you feel you are standing on the runway. I can't believe it's still legal for anyone to go there."

His enthusiasm is infectious: "When I plan to photograph the Concorde, I call the airline to ask when it takes off. When we have lunch, the plane takes off in London, and three-and-a-half hours later, I'm at the airport photographing the landing. Concorde just sends a chill through me. Its noise... I mean, you just can't describe it. It's like the difference between a siren in New York City and one in Paris."

Really great aeroplane photographs are rare. Margaret Bourke-White took a few, and there are bits and pieces by Stieglitz, Brassai (out of Paris airport again) and, more recently, Wolfgang Tillmans, who has also photographed Concorde. So long may Schramm's pursuit continue. His obsessive behaviour, his dedication and technical skill, show how much we've been missing since Lartigue and Zissou. And we can be certain that he will have more success with this show than Lartigue had with his first in the 1950s: "Publishers and museum curators just looked at my photographs," he said ruefully, "the way one would a toothpick during a meal"

`Planespotting' runs from 11 September to 31 October at The Photographers' Gallery, Great Newport Street, London WC2

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