Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: Flight Journal Aviation Photography Issue

The magazine Flight Journal has a special issue on Aviation Photography that is on newsstands now. I would post a cover shot, but can find no image or mention of this issue on Flight Journal's website, which evidently has better things to do than promote Flight Journal publications, and I haven't bought a copy. So these are my impressions from browsing it at the newsstand.

The magazine contains a selection of aviation photos, old and new. Flight Journal's Editor-in-Chief is Budd Davisson, and Budd was not too modest to include many of his own photos in the publication. In itself, that's not inappropriate, because Budd is one of the most important aviation photographers, having established conventions for air-to-air photography in the 1970s that still frame the genre today. Sitting here, I can easily call to mind a dozen of his iconic images from the 1970s and 80s that appeared as magazine covers, photo spreads, and posters in Air Classics, Air Progress, and other publications. I have attended his talks illustrated by slides of many of these shots and would be delighted to buy a magazine, or better yet a well produced book, compiling these pictures. Unfortunately, almost none of them appear in this volume. There are a couple of familiar older pictures, such as a straight-down shot of an orange and green Fokker Dr.I replica from the 1970s, but most of the Davisson shots in this magazine are newer and less impressive. I suppose, sadly, that Budd may not even control the rights to much of his best older work.

Outnumbering Budd's images in this book are those of John Dibbs, the British master of air-to-air warbird pinup photography whose work has become familiar through Aeroplane magazine and his own "Legends" book franchise. Dibbs' work is as professional, sumptuously produced, pretty, and slick as a Christina Aguilera song, but also similarly undifferentiated and lacking in creative or emotional range. Looking through the Dibbs-dominated images in this volume, as well as contributions by photographers such as Paul Bowen and others, I get the impression not so much of a variety of aviation photographs, but more of a variety of aircraft taking turns appearing in the same photograph.

That's probably what Flight Journal's audience, composed of airplane buffs rather than photography buffs, wants. The captions also avoid giving any serious technical information on how the photos were accomplished, which again is probably an astute assessment of the audience's interests. There is certainly some nice softcore airplane imagery here. For someone interested in photography, it's a bit of a disappointment.

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