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January 2013

Focus on specifics

Headlong-attack-v2-sm

"Headlong attack" © Gary Eason / Flight Artworks

High Wycombe, 11 Jan 2013

I have been remiss in updating the blog but that is partly because I've spent time getting a Flight Artworks page on Facebook off the ground. It has accrued some 200 'likes' as I write. 

There have been some very nice comments and so far as one can tell some resulting picture sales, which is a bonus. People have been kind enough to share some of the pictures on their own pages too, so that it has apparently touched the lives of more than 71,000 people, according to the statistics I get.

The other reason for not having written more is that I have been making more pictures! The process of researching and making these can take weeks because I like to portray specific incidents, and if I am going to do that I like to get the details correct. 

Take the Battle of Britain picture at the top of this post. The idea for this arose from reading No. 17 Squadron’s Operations Record Book for Sunday, 25 August 1940, which mentioned:  "F/O Count Czernin attacked a bunch of Me.110s head-on and destroyed three of them.”

He did what? Further reading on the subject revealed that Czernin allegedly achieved this in less than one minute. 

Guns

Following my usual approach I wanted to 'be there' in the skies above Weymouth in Dorset on the south coast of England on that August day. Portraying Czernin's Hurricane was relatively straightforward once I had decided on the point of view - and I figured that if I was going to convey the most powerful impression of a head-on attack I needed to be right with the attacker. 

For the first time in a picture I found myself with guns blazing. This raised a whole new set of challenges. For one thing, guns generally do not actually blaze, or not in daylight anyway. Hollywood fakes it. 

I could not think of a way to ascertain for certain what the ammunition load might have been in his particular Hurricane. Reading around the subject - not least Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding's review of the Battle - I reckon there would not have been any tracer bullets as such. Artistically, though, I was keen to have some visible acknowledgement that the gun button was being thumbed. 

It seemed most likely to me that the smoke trails from the incendiary ammo would give the desired effect without necessitating bright streaks through the sky. 

Secondly I had to have spent cartidge cases coming from the Hurricane's wings.  I based these on the firing rate of the eight .303 calibre guns. Reckoning that this was about 1,150 rounds per minute or 19 per second, you would see about 76 spent casings being ejected from each wing. 

Models

I then had to consider whom he was shooting at. Aside from being Bf 110s this was not clear, although I did know the Luftwaffe units involved.  Hough and Richards in their history, The Battle of Britain, note that he "had a field day with the Me. 110s of I/ZG2" and this would accord with the various German casualties noted in that remarkable catalogue, The Battle of Britain - Then and Now

Portraying these raised another obvious problem that required a departure from my accustomed way of working to date: there simply aren't any 110s flying around to form a photographic basis for the picture. I turned to models instead, and reworked my photos of them to add greater detail, colour, digital 'noise' and some motion blur. 

The rest of the aircraft in the wider scene were more straightforward but I still had to figure out who did what to whom at about the same time that afternoon, and recreate their roles. 

The background was one of my handy stash of cloudscapes.

I worked carefully on the overall composition - as usual rearranging elements and even flipping the whole thing to see it in a different light. I'm pleased with the overall effect of aircraft flying everywhere. 

As for the principle of portraying a specific incident: I think this is the right way to go. I know others produce generic scenes and these can look splendid and be really emotive.

But for me, if I'm going to show, say, a Spitfire, then to be at all realistic it has to be a particular type and it has to have some code letters on it at least, and as soon as you do that you are into depicting an individual aircraft and, more than likely, pilot.  In any case, the specific can also be generic ("a Battle of Britain dogfight", to take the example above) but it cannot readily work the other way round. 

The upshot of this approach in the case of one of my pictures was a phone call out of the blue from the current owner of one of the aircraft featured in it - the Mk IX Spitfire MH434.

This venerable aircraft is still flying. My picture showed it as it would have been in December 1943. The owner, Sarah Hanna of The Old Flying Machine Company, wanted to use the scene as their Christmas image for 2012 and it duly appeared on the mh434.com website

Here's to a happy and successful 2013.