Identified Flying Objects

“It is rather that profoundly in the consciousness of the race the idea of flight is associated with human aspiration and release from physical limitations. Now, on the very threshold of achievement, that dream becomes a nightmare threatening an awful vengeance for its perversion and in desperation the soul of man [sic] reaches backward for the untarnished symbol of his hope.” 

-Selden Rodman, The Poetry of Flight, 1943

Growing up in the ’80’s at the tail end of the Cold War, I was fascinated by spy photographs. I spent hours pouring over these images. The grainy and blurry photos of Soviet and American military aircraft - sometimes confused for UFOs - usually only hinted at the shape and purpose of these mysterious vehicles. Even as a child these unidentified aircraft embodied for me a conflicting sense of wonder and foreboding

Looking back on the history of flight, you can see the divide between civilian and military aircraft shrinking to the point that today, it is virtually non-existent. While the weaponization of commercial aircraft first entered popular consciousness after 9/11, the line was being blurred long before then. Almost every major civilian aircraft made now has a military equivalent. At times the only thing distinguishing one them is a paint job, and a name - at times not even that. The very same tool that serves to unite the world becomes a tool to destroy it depending on the will of its operators.

In the series Identified Flying Objects, I’ve adopted the visual iconography of those “UFO” photos and used it as I photographed military aircraft exhibited at air shows. By concealing the detail and markings you are accustomed to seeing, these blurred shapes suggest the Brancusian essence of these machines. An essence that contains an unsolvable paradox: while being sublimely beautiful and the pinnacle of a millennia-old human dream, these aircraft were designed or used to deliver terror and destruction to human civilizations.

As several of these aircraft are decommissioned and are no longer flying, these images also serve as a record of the strange and wondrous shapes that we occasionally glimpsed streaking across our skies. 

David Wittig, 2014