All my life I have been moved by aeroplanes, and every aircraft I’ve ever boarded, from an ancient DC-3 to the Airbus 380, has thrilled me: the click of the seat belt, the start of engines, the surge of power, the hurtle down the runway, the anticipation of the miracle.
Werner Bartsch, the Hamburg-based photographer, has a similar passion for flying machines, and this month he’s profiled in the Interview of the Month.
A couple of years ago while on holiday in California, Bartsch happened upon abandoned aeroplanes in a gated desert compound near Victorville.
‘Suddenly I saw the aircraft which I’d known from my childhood, and the sight of them deeply moved me,’ he told me when we met in Berlin. ‘There were DC-10s and Tristars, plus old DC-8s and 727s which – due to noise and environmental concerns – could never again fly in Europe.’
Forbidden to enter the former USAF airbase, Bartsch began to scan the internet in search of other ‘boneyards’. He identified half-a-dozen storage sites in Arizona where dry climate, low humidity and hard alkaline soil are conducive for long-term storage. He plagued the owners with calls and letters and, in time, was granted unique access to the aeronautical ‘graveyards’ – with his camera.
The result is ‘Desert Birds’, a series of remarkable, moving and unromantic images of deteriorating, once-glorious flying machines just published by Kehrer Verlag. A cockpit opens on an empty landscape. Sunlight glints off the fuselage of a scavenged DC-3. Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential Air Force One – the Super Constellation ‘Columbine One’ named after the state flower of Colorado where his wife was born -- bakes in the desert sun. A gangway stands in the middle of an abandoned expanse, awaiting the arrival of aircraft which no longer fly.
‘This for me is a heart-and soul project,’ Bartsch told me. ‘With “Desert Birds” I’ve taken the time to do something that I’ve always wanted to do, something which touches me deeply.’ Me too.