Saint-Exupéry at Farnborough

August 24, 2016


I visited the air display at Farnborough this year. I told friends that I was giving my ten year old self an outing. The joke refers to the age at which I attribute the start of my obsession with all things to do with flight. It was an obsession that was to continue well into my teenage years probably reaching its height at sixteen when I flew solo in a glider thanks to the school Cadet Force. The obsession continues now as a kind of nostalgia for older aircraft, and also for the youth I once was. Seeing a Spitfire in the sky has the same kind of resonance as listening to a track from Rubber Soul!


Later when I became interested in French existentialist thought I read Saint-Exupéry’s work. Here too I was driven by a kind of nostalgia as I recaptured some of the feelings associated with my youthful enthusiasm. The stories in books such as Wind, Sand and Stars were written in a style that resonated with memories of the dreamy teenager filled with a desire for adventure while also having his head stuck firmly in a book!


Now with my parents passed away such resonance and nostalgia tends to be given additional weight by memories of my teenage home and especially of my father who was in the RAF and had flown in WWII. There is, then, a density of remembering and bodily sensation when I walk again through the gates of an air base, hear the engine noise and see the elegant shapes of a Spitfire, or (on this occasion) a Russian Yak 3.


Farnborough was overcast and occasionally rainy. Not enough to halt the flying, but enough to create an interesting sky (I guess that the ten year old me would have been rather disappointed by my interest in cloud formations). The atmosphere and the memories were heightened during a couple of aerobatic displays with small aircraft well able to complete their shows within the perimeter of the airfield. The aircraft seemed to illuminate the monochrome skyscape especially when one display was augmented by a series of noisy and smoky fireworks launched from the ground.


A shot of Rich Goodwin's display with the dramatic fireworks is included above. Other shots of this display can be found on the Album page that are simpler, a little more lyrical and, in this sense, more in keeping with the spirit of Saint- Exupéry. Mostly I shot in monochrome using a 35mm lens. I also took a few shots in colour using a 50mm lens, but it was the monochrome shots that captured my imagination and lingered with me. I liked the way that in black and white the contrails merged with the cloud formations to suggest that the aircraft was at home in the sky, cavorting like a porpoise in the water. When I printed some of the monochrome shots the effect of the aircraft merging with the sky was accentuated. I could imagine myself sixteen again floating free in the old Sedbergh glider as it plodded round the circuit and bumped me into an uneasy landfall.


It was moving to meet my ten year old self again through the time shifting frame of my camera. I realise that I hold his dreamy self rather preciously; also that I hope these photographs might have appealed to him. Perhaps to Saint- Exupéry as well – what a marvelous thought.



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