Photography for Flyers
By Maura Monaghan
The word “airport” is rife with connotations, few of them positive. If you’ve ever struggled through a slow-motion security line or had your luggage lost at baggage claim, then you’ve experienced air travel… possibly at its most convenient. Crowded terminals and inevitable delays have allowed for “flying” to become synonymous with “stress,” and most people dread the experience as a necessary evil in getting from Point A to Point B.
This cynicism has not gone unnoticed by most busy airports. In response, many have decided to counteract the expected fluorescent lights and stiff seating with in-house art exhibits for travellers’ enjoyment. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s busiest crossroads, now features a museum inside its terminal. Paris Charles de Gaulle displays rotating art exhibits, changing every six months, curated from museums around the French capital. And Atlanta International Airport has even developed its own Airport Art Program, divided into three pursuits: commissioning artists to create work, presenting rotating exhibitions, and scheduling performing arts series.
The movement to place art in airports means that unanticipated flight delays no longer have to be spent refreshing the same three apps in the terminal McDonald’s. But even more exciting is the fact that this widespread project could draw a larger audience into the world of art and culture. Many travellers who weren’t expecting to pay attention to creative work will find themselves enjoying the time that they thought would be wasted – and that’s encouraging in terms of broadening the scope of the art community.
A welcome relief from traveller’s fatigue, airport art also serves as an introduction to regions that most viewers are merely passing through. In that pursuit, area-specific photography has come to the forefront of many displays. Last year, Helsinki Airport in Finland showcased a Flying Nature photo series that provided a glimpse of the region’s colorful wildlife. Currently on display at South Carolina’s Charleston International Airport are landscape photographs by local artists that speak to the character of the regional community. On the West Coast, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has dedicated multiple galleries to the exhibition of photographic works in an effort to “reflect the diversity of the Bay Area’s arts community.”
For the past thirty years, SFO has spearheaded the movement to bring photography to airports by commissioning regular exhibits in an onsite museum. Some collections are direct homages to San Francisco’s thriving arts scene, like Pamela Gentile’s Atmosphere: Portrait of a Film Festival, displayed in spring 2017 and comprised of pictures taken over Gentile’s 30 years as the official photographer for the San Francisco Film Society. Other exhibitions have a wider scope, with shooting locations ranging from Thailand to Peru to Northern Alaska, but all aim to help visitors “understand the significance of the [San Francisco] region in both the origins and evolution of the photographic medium.” The city itself is home to world-class photo galleries and museums, from the nonprofit Pier 24 Photography to the famed San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, so it’s no surprise that San Francisco’s arts scene has thrived and inspired for so many years. SFO is furthering that tradition by using photography as a respite for stressed-out travellers– and hopefully, an increasing number of airports will begin to follow suit.