I didn’t really dread the assignment. It’s just that I wasn’t really excited about it.
The Commemorative Air Force brings to Yakima a WWII-era bomber each year. The CAF puts the plane on display for tours and flights.
Being of a certain age, WWII was still very much a part of the nation’s collective memory as I grew up. B-17s, B-24s, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima – these were all part of my childhood. I even remember going to see in 1962 “The Longest Day,” a black-and-white film about the Normandy invasion. So, I grew up with WWII.
But how many times had I photographed this? And how could I photograph the bomber differently? I just wasn’t looking forward to this.
I had been there only a few minutes working all the usual, cliched angles when I overheard an elderly gentleman talking to his daughter about his time in WWII as a B-17 crew member flying out of a base in Italy. I introduced myself and asked if I could hang around with them as they toured the aircraft and make some photographs.
Mr. Niemiec brought the inanimate aircraft to life with his stories of flying aboard a B-17 more than 60 years ago. I could have stayed there all afternoon talking with him and asking questions about his experiences during WWII but I had a deadline to meet later in the afternoon.
I know this photo isn’t particularly exciting but it is personal. Walter Niemiec gave a face to all those young men who flew aboard B-17s in WWII. And he made my day.
And while I already know it, I must sometimes be reminded to keep an open mind about photographing every subject, no matter how many times I’ve photographed it. There’s no telling who you will meet or what will happen to make it a memorable time. It’s a lesson every photographer should remember.