Damien O’Mara, Dreamliner.
Once the domain of a privileged few, the increased availability of air-travel has reshaped both global commerce and individual behaviour. With an estimated 3.6 billion people passing through the world’s airports in 2016, air travel has, for some, become just another commute.
In the whirl of security checks, retail diversions and now often the vast distances that need to be navigated through the unfamiliar giant complexes that airports have become, direct engagement with the exterior of an actual aeroplane is reduced to the fleeting moment with the passenger is funnelled through an air bridge and steps over the threshold and on-board.
This series of photographs by Damien O’Mara seek to redress an engagement with the aeroplane as a complex industrial object, loaded with symbols and aspirations but also signs of use and ownership.
His specific subject is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which was introduced in 2015 and is now entering the fleets of airlines around the world. This aeroplane is celebrated for innovation in design and function, but O’Mara denies the conventional photographic view of a gleaming form flying through blue skies, and approaches it with a clear eye, to make what could be likened to an intimate and direct portrait, without makeup, lights or artifice.
His interest in making this series has been shaped by his own professional background as a structural design engineer before he directed his attention to filmmaking in 2009 and then began a concentration on still photography and the development of alternative narratives for representing masculinity and technology. The cannon of industrial photography was established as a genre within Modernist photography from the 1920s with artists such as Wolfgang Sievers and Max Dupain being some of the best known exponents in Australia with their dramatic black and white images of factories and industrial processes.
O’Maras very large detailed photographs are consciously quite different, and to make them he was given supervised access on the tarmac of Gold Coast Airport over a number of weeks. This ability to be in close proximity to these giant structures allowed for very close observation, and further work in the studio to crop and edit the images has drawn out further revelations in understanding forms and details. Up close it is now possible to read the metallic surface of the aeroplane like a skin, with rivets and repairs, the details of small fixings and the implied power of the raw machinery of the engines.
The project is an appropriate one to have been generated by a Gold Coast artist. The Gold Coast as an iconic tourist destination is one that has historically celebrated the arrival experience and it is also one of the few major Australian airports where passengers still do directly walk out onto the tarmac before climbing the stairs and into the plane.
Airports are theatres of human behaviour and their attraction is often the opportunity to sit quietly and observe fellow travellers. This series might encourage a similar appreciation of the design ingenuity of the immense structures we fly in and through looking deeply and intently at them, also helps us to conquer unspoken fears and the suspension of natural disbelief in placing trust in these flying machines.