Focus on the Fuselage
French photographer Manolo Chrétien takes an unusual angle on aviation with his powerful aeronautical artwork.
Acclaimed artist and photographer Manolo Chrétien exhibited his deep-rooted passion for aviation in his Nose Art exhibition held at the MB&F M.A.D. Gallery in Dubai in February. Taking a bird’s eye view, Chrétien has captured the essence of his chosen aircraft nose-to-face. From a deluxe 1960s Learjet to the supersonic Concorde jetliner and military aircraft like the Dassault Rafale, his images offer a dynamic and unusual visual perspective. He has accentuated the shapes and focussed attention on the fuselage detail by using a circular cutout format, to remove any distracting elements.
“Nose Art is the natural outcome of 10 years’ of trying to capture planes from a humanistic or animalistic angle,”
“It’s been in my head for years, since my father woke me up one morning from the air through the window of my second floor bedroom in a helicopter he was testing. I remember it as if it were yesterday: the cockpit of the Alouette, my father with his Ray Bans on smiling inside, motioning to say, ‘Time to get out of bed, kids!’”
Chrétien’s childhood abounded with aeronautical adventures that fired his love of technology, power, industrial structures, metallic surfaces and infinite detail. He grew up among hangars, tarmac, kerosene, rivets and the aluminium skins of jet prototypes that his father, France’s first astronaut, would one day pilot.
“My inspiration for Nose Art came suddenly, while on a photo trip in the Tucson desert in 2008. I was photographing all sorts of planes when I had a flashback of my brothers and I when we were very young in the garden of our house in Orange, France – right next to the runway, where we were fascinated by the planes taking off,” Chrétien shares. “Growing up I saw the tarmac, kerosene, and aluminium through the eyes of a small child; I was overwhelmed by the size of these huge metal birds flying over me.
“I photograph from this viewpoint today, sometimes by lying on the ground to recreate a child-like sense of scale. Since my very first photographs I’ve been fascinated with the textures and colours of used metals, revealing the past and the story of these materials. So scale, colours, and surface textures are very important.”
Each plane has a story to tell, whether this is expressed through corrosion or damage from war: their skin defects reveal the aircraft’s individual idiosyncrasies. Chrétien was drawn to the Etoile de Suisse (‘Star of Switzerland’), one of the first TWA Constellation aircraft to be converted for civilian service. A close look at this four-engine, propeller-driven airliner from 1943 revealed thousands of indentations in the aluminium from flying through a torrential hailstorm – a memorable journey for the pilot and one that left the aircraft with tremendous character and a visual chronicle of its history.
Chrétien generally carries two types of cameras on his photographic journeys: a Canon EOS 5Ds R and a Hasselblad H4D-60. It was not an easy task to photograph the aircraft noses straight on, when they are so high up off the ground. Therefore, a trusty tripod and a forklift were essential to boost Chrétien face-to-face with the nose of the aircraft, creating the best possible angle to photograph these legendary flying machines.
“To face the Concorde was one of my best moments,” Chrétien excitedly describes it as if he were reliving the moment. “This amazing plane is a legend and when you go up to the beak of this fantastic metal bird it’s high and very impressive to realise just how fluid the design of that machine is, inspired in 1960 by a Northern Gannet bird!” Chrétien’s photograph easily allows you to imagine the nose of the Concorde piercing the atmosphere at supersonic speeds.
More of Chrétien’s aviation art is can be seen at skins.manolochretien.com.