Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reprising a Moment in Time

The beauty of photography, and the feature that gets harped on to the point of cliche', is the fact that every shot captures a moment in time. While it can be debated that a lot of moments are imminently forgettable, and preferably so, there is no doubt that many of those images become as universal and timeless as any petroglyph or pictograph on a rock wall.

I first realized that quality in pictures when I was engrossed in reading about the American Civil War and World War II as a kid. The old Matthew Brady photos of Yankee soldiers during that terrible war are just as poignant as those of American troops on landing craft heading for Normandy or the German paratroopers preparing to jump over Holland. What struck me was a recurring series of expressions in many of their faces: apprehension, fear, resolve, courage, resignation and above all impossible youth. The dread realization that many of those staring back at me through the lens did not survive the coming battle or the war was sobering. It certainly affected my understanding of war and mortality as an impressionable pre-teen. That same quality affects me still when I look at current images from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every once in a while, though, we get an opportunity to revisit those past images and celebrate both the passage of time and survival. So it was with Bob Goebel, a young U.S. Army Air Force pilot in World War II. Bob became a fighter ace in the P-51 Mustang and had his achievement commemorated in the above photo by an unknown Army photographer. Almost 60 years later, Bob attended the 2003 Hawthorne Air Faire as a guest, selling copies of his book about his exploits in World War II. Also in attendance was a P-51 warbird in the markings of his aircraft. I was volunteering as a photographer for the Western Museum of Flight that weekend and took the opportunity to shoot Bob in the cockpit of the Mustang. I had seen his old photo and tried to replicate the shot. While not perfect, it was close enough. It made a nice bookend to an eventful part of his life.

Indeed, through the power of photography, we all can look back over our lives and see images of ourselves locked forever in time. From the mundane to the extraordinary, photographs mark our existence in the world. It is a small measure of immortality for future generations to ponder when they stumble upon our traces.

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