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Simple instrument: Just stand up and bail out - Zach Porter

In the past year I've had several opportunities at my job to fly in a plane for a photograph. But never have I had, or will probably have the opportunity to fly in a World War II era vintage Boeing Stearman bi-plane. On Wednesday morning I took to the skies over the Atlanta Motor Speedway in this historic plane. I even got to ride in the front seat.

Before takeoff I was briefed by the pilot on a few important safety measure. He told me that if I heard him come over the speaker saying "Bail out. Bail out." that this was no joke and I should act swiftly. He pointed to one buckle that would release all the belts strapping me into this flying beast. Then he said that I should "get out of the plane" and pull the ripcord on my parachute. I thought about this last bit of instruction for a second, "get out of the plane." It seemed easy enough, just stand up in the seat, maybe climb out on the wing as the plane was spiraling toward the ground, and on the count of three...... jump. The prospects of me being calm enough to climb out of the plane as I plummet to my death in what had become a fast falling hunk of metal in the sky seemed bleak. The thought crossed my mind, if I had to bail, would I ditch my camera?

My camera was what got me on this bird in the first place, without it, I had no ticket to ride. And it is also my thin buffer from reality; that is the reality of pain, suffering, and death that I may witness in my line of work. Some of the things I do for this job, like riding in old planes that make giant vertical loops in the sky, are made possible by the distraction that my camera provides. High above Atlanta Motor Speedway my mind was preoccupied with the picture taking process, enjoying the view once removed behind the lens, not fully comprehending the great distance between me and the ground.

Being up in that plane gave me not only a great visual perspective of the physical lay of the land in which I live, but a good approach for living my life. Perhaps my camera is not a distraction after all, but the way in which I interpret the world. An instrument I use to bring the world into focus for myself and thus for others. It's still true that I can't engage so much in my subject (i.e. enjoying flying so much that I forget to take pictures) but instead of being fearful and alone on my journey, I am armed at least with an artistic directive and a purpose. Without insight and interpretation in life, you have no perspective in which to retreat when things go sour. Shake off the small problems with a shrug of the shoulders and a laugh. Thinking back to what the pilot told me, "just get out of the plane," I would now say sure, how hard could it be?

Zach Porter is a photographer with the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ex. 248 or zporter@news-daily.com .