Man, am I beat.
Thus, some brevity, in theory.
Let’s set things up for a ruminantive journey by peeking in on FROM BABYKILLER TO ART DECO ICON: images of the airship, authored in 2002 and concluding with a paragraph that looks ahead to the coming hypercapitalist celebration of the airship.
Having digested that (and franked the letters as apprpriate) we shall turn back the hands of time to the innocent age of 1994, where we confront The Great Pink Floyd Airship Mystery, a conundrum that continues to inspire analyses such as Organization as the Message. For those, like me, who were unaware that in 1994 promotional blimps cruised the European skies, scaring the unwary and pleasing the archetypal bong-toting Floyd devotee, it is worth reproducing the images of these artships.
Of course, there’s always been loads of photos of the blimps and dirigibles. Often the ones that get reproduced emphasize the looming bulk of the items via an extreme foreshortening, or juxtapose the ship, in the near foreground, with an impossibly large item in the near distance. For example, there are aerial photos of at least the Macon and the Akron (and I had thought the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg) off the shoulder of Manhattan, looming in the viewfinder to cover most of the Lower East Side.
These images are striking, and fantastic, and the sheer impossibility of the sight – how can something that big be in the sky? – accounts for a good portion of the wonder and interest that the blimps and dirigibles exert today.
Of course, it’s good to think contextually, as well. The great semi-military dirigibles of the U. S., Britain, and Germany played a role in the interwar period much like the space program. Technological wonders and simple awe helped convey the idea of progress, of the future. One day, millions would slide from continent to continent in grace and style, Bertie Wooster attended by Jeeves aboard the Vickers Transoceanic as a dance band serenaded the passengers beneath the balmy mid-Atlantic stars topside.
An interior view of the deck configuration aboard the British airship R-100, from the Airship Heritage Trust.
But if you’ve ever seen the Goodyear, or Fuji, or Sanyo blimps in the sky, you may have noticed that however big the blimp may be, the sky is much larger. When looking at these things with your eye, your brain communicates the scale to you in myriad ways. But the quantifiable degree of visual space the ships occupy in the vast reaches is quite small. The techniques employed in the images described and cited above counteract this fact to communicate scale.
What would it look like if a photographer consistently framed the great dirigibles against large objects on the ground, from the ground?
Theodor Horydczak did just that. In several of his many aviation-themed photos, he framed the Graf Zeppelin in the upper center of his viewfinder over a city street and above the Capitol. The Los Angeles over (and through) the Lincoln Memorial.
Is he constructing a meaning here? I guess that his intent was simply to juxtapose the old (the horse and cart) with the new; the accomplishments of America past with America future. The implicit ironic threat of an Art Deco envoy of the Nazi state hanging over the Capitol with all the shining grace of Damocles’ sword may not have come clear until 1940. The subtler juxtaposition of the Los Angeles (and, although I do not reproduce it here, the Goodyear-manufactured Akron) with the Lincoln Memorial is likely only to strike the paranoid dyslexic as a warning of looming civil war and dystopian threats to democracy developing from the structural pressures of hypercapitalism. Happily, Mr. Horydczak’s images cast the Memorial as a redoubt and temple from within which we peer at the emblem of industry securely.
One day in 1906 another American (I presume) set about to fly the airship Eagle in the fair city of Chicago. The crowd gaped.
About twenty-five years later, on August 28, 1929, crowds gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park to see the Graf Zeppelin on a stopover in her record-setting round-the world flight. They came, of course, to look at the Zeppelin.