“The airplane is a quintessential manifestation of our humanness, tool making. They are an ancient primal dream made real, to fly. I look upon the machines themselves as objects of art, a result of the creative process.”
These are the words of renowned photographer Bob Seidemann used to describe his homage to airplanes and their creators and pilots in his series of 302 aviation-themed photographs entitled “The Airplane as Art, which was just donated to the UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library.
Thanks to the generosity of UT Dallas alumnus Jerry Comer, the Library’s Special Collections department is now home to the collection, which has been described as one of the most ambitious photography portfolio projects of the 20th century and commanded high-altitude prices at auction recently.
Comer, a retired engineer who earned a master’s degree in management from UT Dallas in 1977, purchased Seidemann’s photographs in May at Heritage Auctions Photographs Auction in New York City. Previously, because of his affiliation with UT Dallas, Comer donates rare and important photographs and books to the University.
Earlier gifts from Comer include more than 350 photographs that capture scenes of American life from the middle to late 20th century, as well as more than 300 books and periodicals relating to modern and contemporary art and photography.
A virtual who’s who of the aviation industry during the last century, the new collection contains portraits of chief engineers, designers, WW-II aces, flying aerobatic teams and test pilots, astronauts and cosmonauts, flight and maintenance crews in the 1980s and 1990s. Aircrafts photographed include commercial, military and experimental planes as well as the space shuttle, airplane graveyards, views from the air, cockpits, flying aerobatic teams in formation, aircraft carriers and abstract details of aircraft.
“We feel honored to count this outstanding collection of Bob Seidemann’s work as now part of our aviation collection. His photographs bring the aircraft and pilots to life, communicating even more powerfully ideas that are sometimes difficult to comprehend in written form,” said Dr. Ellen Safley, dean of the Eugene McDermott Library. “We’re extremely grateful to Jerry for this very special donation.”
“Many of the photos in the collection are of aircrafts or parts of aircrafts that are abstract and beautifully shot or framed really artistically. They’re all black and white, so there’s a lot of shadow and detail,” said Dr. Thomas Allen, curator and University Archivist.
But aside from the portfolio’s artistry, what stands out to Allen the most is the fact that 65 of the photos have been signed in ink on the photo by the subjects and 61 of them are additionally signed by the subject in pencil on the back.
“As an aviation enthusiast and curator, I find the collection extremely fascinating because not only is it appealing artistically, but it’s also interesting because the photographer got the signatures of so many famous aircraft designers – like the man who designed the DC-3, the man who designed the F-16 and the man who designed the B-52,” Allen said.
Although it was Seidemann’s lifelong passion that inspired his ambitious aviation project, he earned a reputation as one of the most respected rock ‘n’ roll photographers of his generation. Before plunging into his aircraft photography, he photographed Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. He also shot a photograph he titled “Blind Faith,” which Eric Clapton used as the name of his band, as well as for the cover of the band’s only album.