Acclaimed artist and photographer Manolo Chrétien unearths his deeply rooted passion for aviation in the Nose Art exhibition at the MB&F M.A.D.Gallery, which debuted this month. From a luxe 1940s Learjet to the supersonic Concorde jetliner and military vessels like the Dassault Rafale, Chrétien captures the essence of famed aircraft nose-to-face as it were offering a dynamic and unusual dead-on visual perspective which is further accentuated by the circular cut-out format.
Born in 1966 and raised near Orange Air Force Base in France, Manolo Chrétien has vivid childhood memories of gazing out his bedroom window in awe of the aircrafts soaring through the sky. As the son of Jean-Loup Chrétien, a test pilot and the first French astronaut, hangars filled with prototype jet planes were his playground. He developed his passion for aviation early on in his life, though this was not expressed publicly until later.
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
“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 souls. Chrétien, for example, was drawn to the Etoile de Suisse (“Star of Switzerland”), one of the first TWA Constellation aircrafts converted for civilian service, during a photography trip to the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona.
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.
The eight photographs in the Nose Art exhibition endow each aircraft with a humanistic personality, as if the faces of the planes were happily smiling or cautiously glaring. Endless interpretations are left to the observer’s imagination.
When shooting the planes in preparation for the Nose Art exhibit, it was not an easy task to photograph their noses 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 plane, creating the best possible angle to photograph these legendary flying machines.
“To face the Concorde was one of my best moments,” Chrétien excitedly describes 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 realize just how fluid the design of that machine inspired in 1960 by a Northern Gannet bird is!”
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