April 28, 2012

Space Shuttle in the Skies of Manhattan: The Healing

Space Shuttle Empire State Building

Do photos heal?

For pure spectacle, it’s hard to top the imagery of the Space Shuttle gliding through the skies of San Francisco, Washington and New York, creating powerful juxtapositions with America’s most cherished and symbolic landscapes, monuments and landmarks. I imagine there’s an e-book’s-worth of symbolism here and I’m curious to hear what you read in these photos. For myself, however, I can’t look at the Shuttle seeming to thread its way in and among the New York cityscape without recalling those other scenes burned into my psyche and America’s brain, of airliners — angels of death — flying low through the town in remarkable proximity to homes and histories and essences of power and critical nerve centers, and finally, unimaginably….

Space shuttle statue of liberty

Against that background, how soothing and cathartic these visuals are. Laid over eidetic memories of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, like cataracts now in the country’s inner eye, these gentle and curious photographs bind themselves to our best “where were you when-!?” questions, and the symbolism of some of America’s most exciting and proud feelings, recollections and national moments (first man to orbit the earth, Friendship 7 splashdown, first man on the moon, our romance with JFK and his with space, and on and on).

Space shuttle freedom tower

Of course, you wouldn’t have as many photos of the craft and Old Glory, and the ironic impact of the craft “almost contacting” the Freedom Tower without (re-)activating feelings of dominance and American exceptionalism, and jingoism, too.

But what makes these images so visceral is not just the history and the landscape but the makeup of the vehicle itself, the visual of the craft emanating qualities of romance, nurturance and rebirth. Businessweek reminded us recently how much the visage of the Space Shuttle evokes sexual (and procreative) thrill and, more strongly for the healing, the maternal suggestion is undeniable here, the steady 747 carrying the exhausted Space Shuttle like a best-of-Nature Channel, Mommy/baby-on-her-back standard on a million screen savers.

Space Shuttle taking pictures

When the injury is that deep, healing doesn’t happen in a scene or a moment, but in, oh, so many moments over quite some time. …Like these.

(photo 1 & 3: Lucas Jackson/Reuters caption 1: The Space Shuttle Enterprise rides atop a NASA modified 747 plane as they fly past the Empire State Building over New York April 27, 2012. The Space Shuttle Enterprise officially arrived in New York to be placed at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum..photo 2: Michael Heiman/Getty Images photo 4: J. Scott Applewhite caption: Hitching a ride on top a special NASA Boeing 747 jet, the space shuttle Discovery soars past Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, after a flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Discovery, the world’s most traveled spaceship, now becomes an attraction at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., next to Dulles International Airport.photo 5: Michael Nagle/Getty Images caption: Spectators watch space shuttle Enterprise, mounted atop a 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, fly down the Hudson River…)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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