It’s Plane to See

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"In Plane View: Abstractions of Flight," a new exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum that opened March 21, is a collection of 56 large-format photographs by Carolyn Russo that will toy with your perceptions. These hyper close-ups of aerial icons focus on parts rather than the whole aircraft—reminiscent of O’Keefe’s flowers, Warhol’s soup cans and a Technicolor movie musical.

The images are strikingly bizarre with exceptionally vivid colors, providing an open buffet of eye candy that is a sensory experience that cannot be had by looking at aircraft strung from the ceiling. (Above: these are the grooves within the exhaust cone of the North American X-15. The pattern of light and dark streaks were etched into the exhaust cone by the extremely hot gas expelled through it.)

Russo has been a photographer at the Air and Space Museum since 1988 and began working on the project in 2004, armed with her handheld Hasselblad and a background in portrait photography. The aim was to divine the persona of each aircraft, accentuating qualities that the average tourist would not think to uncover.

"We live with these planes," Russo said of her subjects. "I see them every day. They become beings."

"In Plane View" can be found on the ground floor of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum until January 2, 2009, and a book of Russo’s work is available from powerHouse books.

(Photo by Carolyn Russo/NASM, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

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