Flights of Fancy: Photographing the World’s Plane Watchers

There’s a good funny paradox about flying, said the Lithuanian photographer Mindaugas Kavaliauskas: Those in the air sometimes wish they were on the floor, and those on the floor often dream of being in the air flow.

“In Lithuanian, we have a good proverb: ‘A neighbor’s apples are always tastier,’” he said.

Mr. Kavaliauskas understands that firsthand. As a frequent flyer, he possesses experienced the boredom, discomfort and tension that often accompanies flights, thoughts he captured in his decade-long task on fellow travelers, which Lens featured last year. But he likewise understands the lure of flexibility and excitement that flying presents to persons on the ground, an understanding he received while photographing persons who spend time relishing the perspective above.


“There are persons who watch football,” he said. “There are certainly others who go fishing. These persons go out to watch airplanes.”

Over the last 2 yrs, Mr. Kavaliauskas possesses photographed persons in more than a dozen places around the world. He discovered there are hugely preferred locations that attract hundreds of persons. On St. Martin, scores of travelers on Maho Seaside gawk at the famously low-flying planes making their descent into Princess Juliana International Airport. In Denmark, diners at The Airplane Grill arrive specifically to watch the landings and departures at Copenhagen Airport terminal.

At those spots, the atmosphere can be carnivalesque. But plane-spotting also draws persons to desolate spots in “the center of nowhere,” Mr. Kavaliauskas explained. There, the hobby could be a solitary and sober pursuit.

“One night, I saw three pupils who’d just graduated high school and were seeking at airplanes, discussing what they want to do in life,” he said. “So sometimes this scenery is for entertainment. Other times it’s a place for serious contemplation.”


Thanks to various programs and websites providing real-time flight information or perhaps usage of radio chatter from air flow traffic control, spotting planes is a fairly accessible pursuit for aviation geeks. But plane-spotter spotting, Mr. Kavaliauskas said, is trickier. Several times he trekked to a remote plane-spotting location he’d aquired online, only to locate a solitary spotter, or none. But those scenarios can still yield interesting photographs, Mr. Kavaliauskas said. Consequently, too, can scenes where airplanes aren’t actually present.

A few of Mr. Kavaliauskas’ topics, in fact, aren’t obviously identifiable as plane spotters. Taken out of context, they may be making the most of a parade, or seeing birds. In these pictures, Mr. Kavaliauskas’ focus is human relationships – the daddy and child peering through a telescope, or the brand new father and mother lifting their baby in the air flow for a photo.

“What I actually liked concerning this task was that there was often no immediate photo to have,” he said.

Not absolutely all plane watchers are always aviation enthusiasts. Some perform it to observe their relatives removing. Some just enjoy the scenery with a date or with their own families. Others, he explained, want to look vicariously connected to the planes, passengers and the far-off spots they’ll likely never go to.

“It’s ways to sort of consume the environment,” he said.

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