In Plane View

Closed on January 2, 2009

"In Plane View," an exhibition of 56 large-format photographs by Carolyn Russo showcasing the aesthetic quality of some of the National Air and Space Museum's iconic aircraft, will be on display March 21, 2008 through Jan. 2, 2009. With close-up facets, sculptural forms and life-like elements, "In Plane View" directs viewers' attention to the often-overlooked simple elegance of aircraft design. Russo exposes the bold colors, textures, shapes and patterns that characterize diverse flying machines and, with her lens, transforms technology into art.


"I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince me that the reason flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the esthetic appeal of flying."

—Amelia Earhart
First female pilot to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean

Book cover: In Plane View

In Plane View / Abstractions of Flight
In Plane View, an exhibition of 56 photographs by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum photographer Carolyn Russo, redirects our attention to the often-overlooked "simple beauty" of aircraft design. With precedents in the work of Robert Delaunay, Charles Sheeler, and Arshile Gorky, among others, Russo uses fine-art photography to bring out new visual dimensions of these powerful symbols of the 20th century, transforming them into works of art. The exhibition features an introduction and essays by Anne Collins Goodyear, assistant curator of prints and drawings at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and a specialist in the relationship of art, science, and technology. Labels detailing the significance of the depicted craft in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum are accompanied by commentary from aviation and space pioneers, engineers, and artists. The companion book (powerHouse Books, December 2007) features a foreword by aerobatic champion pilot, Patty Wagstaff.
Order In Plane View online

"We are coming into a new era of flight, an era in which all past conception of time and distance is changing and changing at a very, very rapid rate."

—Allan Lockheed
Founder of Lockheed Aircraft


In Plane View: North American X-15

Picturing a group of record-breaking aircraft, Carolyn Russo uses color, line, and pattern to accentuate power and speed. Here Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis appears from below. This view of the bright orange belly of the plane that first flew in 1947 faster than sound mimics the perspective of those over whom it first flew, emphasizing its hurtling motion. The Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird seems to zoom forward into space in one photograph. Another picture, with enhanced color, depicts the neonlike rings of the spy plane's afterburner, which increases the jet's thrust. A similar effect can be glimpsed in Russo's depiction of the North American X-15, which is represented through its exhaust cone, the striations of which suggest the burst of energy the hypersonic plane requires to reach the edge of the Earth's atmosphere.

"I've got special problems for every airplane. They've all got their own personalities and they're all very special."

—Joe Engle
Test Pilot for Space Shuttle Enterprise


In Plane View: Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VIIc

Picking up on the intimate relationships pilots experience with their aircraft, which become extensions of the body and the mind, Russo teases out the life-like attributes of a wide range of Smithsonian aircraft. The Kreider- Reisner C-4C Challenger becomes a delicate dragonfly, with its shimmering white body floating against a dark backdrop. In the row of exhaust stacks along the green fuselage of the Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIIc, Russo imagines organic flora-blades of grass or perhaps a row of wildflowers. In other instances, aircraft become even more human in appearance. Russo's photograph of the exhaust pipe of the McDonnell F-4S Phantom II draws us in with features that suggest huge eyes, a long nose and a horizontal mouth.

"Painting has come to an end. Who can do anything better than this propeller? Can you?"

—Marcel Duchamp


In Plane View: Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat Conquest 1

A subject of fascination to artists since the early twentieth century, the propeller represents both an elegant form as well as providing the mechanical power that lifts aircraft and helicopters into the sky. In this series of photographs, Carolyn Russo tips her hat to machine-age artists of the 1920s and 30s. Her close-up depiction of the Northrop Gamma Polar Star's propeller hub, which captures the aesthetic appeal of its rounded, almost flower-like shape, is reminiscent of the work of Paul Strand or Charles Sheeler. The repetition of the propeller of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F evokes Marcel Duchamp's propellerlike kinetic sculpture Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics).

"For my part I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of the stars make me dream."

—Vincent Van Gogh


In Plane View: Gemini IV

From the very beginning of their history, planes have been painted with eye-popping designs intended to attract attention, distract enemies, or to celebrate the feats of pilots. These photographs celebrate the artistry of airplanes and space ships, whose embellishments become the inspiration for photographic compositions that resemble the geometric abstractions of Ellsworth Kelly and Morris Louis and the pop art of Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana.

"For not only is life put in new patterns from the air, but it is somehow arrested, frozen in form."

—Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Aviator and Author


In Plane View: Focke-Wulf Ta 152 H

Just as the view from an airplane's window transforms the landscape into a tapestry of shapes and colors, so does Carolyn Russo's unique perspective make visible the distinct surfaces that protect and identify flying machines, like skin marks and envelops living organisms. Focusing on these delicate membranes, Russo reveals patterns and textures that often escape our notice, but which create analogies between our own bodies and those of aircraft.

The "In Plane View"exhibit was made possible with the generous in-kind donations from Epson USA Inc., The National Museum of the Marine Corps, Smithsonian Affiliations, Bogen Imaging Inc. and a grant from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.
Essay text that appears on this webpage is condensed from the original exhibition script and is copyrighted by Anne Collins Goodyear.