Seattle-based artist Aaron Gustafson recently completed a series of large-format landscape photographs that he shot while freefalling through the skies of New York and Washington State. He became the first person to take large-format photographs while skydiving.
“I wanted to upend the norms by making a [large-format] camera to be used in a wildly different way,” Gustafson said. “This is what you’d get if you threw Ansel Adams out of a plane.”
Gustafson designed a helmet-mounted 4x5-inch film camera, and during the period of several months he made one photograph per jump while skydiving at speeds greater than 130 miles per hour.
“There is a long history between photography and adventure,” artist-photographer Arthur Ou said of the project. “Gustafson's work … continues on this lineage, though not without a sense of wit and sincere irony.”
Artist Miranda Lichtenstein added, “Gustafson contemplates the sublime by jumping into it—literally … Picture [Dutch conceptual artist] Bas Jan Ader working for the [US] Geological Survey.”
Gustafson specially designed the camera that he used for the series. He made a prototype and then worked with a machinist and a plastics specialist to realize the final design. The camera is a cube-shaped acrylic and aluminum box that contains a wide-angle lens and houses a single sheet of 4x5-inch film at a time.
After learning to solo skydive, Gustafson made approximately 25 photo-dedicated jumps in New York and Washington State. The photographs show expansive aerial views of the Shawangunk Ridge in New York, and the Cascade Range and Puget Sound in Washington State. Subtle blur in the images alludes to how they were made.
“Photography is in a strange place now where everyone is taking camera-phone snapshots and posting them online,” Gustafson said. “But photography can still be grand and larger-than-life. This project came out of a desire for that. It’s a hybrid of new and old, calm and chaos.”
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