Planes [2000/2004]

“…the [ground] wore the appearance of an instalment of night which had taken up its place before it’s astronomical hour had come, darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon, while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards, [one] would have been inclined to continue work; looking down he would have decided to finish [..] and go home.”

— From, The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy 1878

I flew into New York JFK airport on the 10th of September 2001, arriving around 10 pm. A thunder storm lumbered overhead as cabs poured passengers into Manhattan flooding the sidewalks all the way downtown with recent heavy rain. It was warm with flickers of cool air and the unpredictable atmosphere was brought closer by jet lag and the bewilderment of stepping off a seven-hour flight from London.

After 9/11, I stayed on in the city for ten days not photographing much at all. I returned to London late September then went back again to New York in early November; Though the city smelt the same as it did in late September, all fused electrics and burning dust, everything was different. I had made some ‘Plane’ photographs in London before 9/11. The work was beginning to refer to my Dad and him taking us to air shows as children, something I enjoyed. He did his national service in the Royal Air Force  and then worked for most of his professional life as a Production Engineer for Rolls Royce, Derby redirecting his passion for aircraft into engine projects for civil airliners, the RB211 particularly.

Each year, around late September I had a habit of re-reading a passage in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Return of the Native’ which describes an English heath at the onset of Autumn, Hardy’s pathetic fallacy setting the scene on which  tragedy will occur. I had always liked this passage and it was always on my mind when making this work. I liked the idea of photographing near to the end of the day, and as the seasons changed, of my feet being in darkness and what I was photographing still being lit by the sun.

Back in London after New York,  I made more and more photographs, generally from the same place, and at the same time of year, near where I used to lived in East London. The holding pattern on ‘westerly operations’, takes all incoming Heathrow aircraft over Hackney, Islington, The City, Westminster and most everywhere else over London and its populace. For a while, after 9/11, commercial aircraft, the most banal yet beautiful modern objects, their altitude, fragility and purpose, and  routes over our lives, offered us an altogether more ambivalent identity.

I had written a will before I left for New York on September 10th. Something I had never thought of doing before. I have no idea why I did it then, it was useless: no had witnessed me doing it and I’d not even signed the document. But I printed it out, and left it on a bookcase in my flat before leaving for the airport.

Written in 2004.
Updated 2023.