Tag Archives: Cal Gaines Photography

B-29 Superfortress

As the WWII bomber flew overhead on a dreary Monday, the dark grey clouds parted as a small beam of light from the evening sun opened in the sky and the B-29 Superfortress began its final pass with the 4 turbine engines roaring in the air as landing gear slowly appeared. Standing there judging the distance I quickly grabbed my longer lens, snapped it in place, and pointed up as fast as I could hoping to not miss a shot. Minutes turned to seconds and the B-29 called ‘Fifi,’ descended about 200 ft from where I stood during the Commemorative Air Force’s “Air Power History Tour,” at the Leesburg International Airport.

022414 B29 CG 1

Landing smoothly, smoke erupted from the undercarriage and it was one of the most largest war planes I had ever set eyes on. Making its way down the runway a large crowd of plane enthusiasts and veterans gathered to see the magnificent monster of a machine — the same monster that dropped the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki saving roughly a million American lives and a few million Japanese. Although this B-29 at the show never dropped bombs it is one out of a handful that survived the war and is the only one that still flies today.

Watching the crew deplane was very interesting. In full head-to-toe gear, they each fit the role of operating such a historic piece of WWII. The shafts of the undercarriage opened, ladders fell from the cockpit, small windows popped up as bodies wiggled from the top of the aircraft and each person did their duty. For a brief moment it was like watching young men in the 1940s scrambling around performing maintenance and making sure everything was done with precision.

After coming down from the high that was placed before me from all of the adrenaline, the reporter and I were asked if we would like to come aboard. The high immediately came back and hit me like a bag of bricks. With my camera wrapped around my side and my flash dangling like a noodle from a cord I held on to a very thin ladder ascending up into the cockpit. As the smell of oil and gasoline disrupted my senses I felt like I was in military fatigues getting ready for flight preparations. Lifting myself up to the last step into the B-29, sweat began to drip from my brow. The sound of high heels clicked as they echoed and followed me remembering that I was a photojournalist on assignment as the reporter made the last few steps as she joined me inside.


From all of the years of use, the metal, the paint, along with the gas from the engines and the equipment, it had a distinctive odor that history embedded inside of the aircraft. So many different gauges, wires, equipment, seats for flight engineers and gunners crowded the space. The outside of the bomber seemed so huge, but the inside not so much. Looking around, I was in utter amazement as I sat down in the pilot’s seat the perspective changed. Ahead of me the window was huge and round and I wondered what it would have been like soaring in the sky over the Pacific.  I just couldn’t get over that I was sitting in a B-29, a once in a lifetime chance to experience something so unique, yet a historic piece to the United States military.

Turning around I began to photograph, leaving my flash with the reporter as she descended back down to reality. I wanted to spend a few minutes alone up in the hull of the bomber capturing some of the natural light as it illuminated the space creating a lonely ambiance that only a slower shutter speed would be able to capture. In front of me now was a hole in the plane about 15 ft or so long. Below it were the areas where the replica bombs now lay to rest, but at one time the B-29 Superfortress carried a 20,000 lbs payload. To my curiosity I had to know what was on the other side of the plane so I yelled down to the man at the ladder and asked him if I could crawl through the dark hole to the other side. He replied yes and yet again with my camera strapped to my side I forced my way into the crawl space. The very small space felt like a mouse-hole, dark with hardly any headroom and a long green camouflage cushion under my knees. I tried to imagine what it would have been like for a young man pushing his way through this dark tunnel thousand of feet in the air possibly being fired upon as crew members yell and the sounds of return fire from the gunners echo.

Making it to the other side there is a tall chair on a platform with a plastic type dome-shaped window. I pull myself up to the chair and it is a top gunner seat in the back of the aircraft alongside a starboard waist gunner, a port waist gunner and a radar operating area. By this time I am completely overwhelmed and the inside of the plane is muggy and hot, but nonetheless I see a way back out onto the ground as the rest of the crew passes cargo out a back entrance ladder.

My experience on the B-29 Superfortress was nothing short of amazing. Being inside of an aircraft that men were on during WWII was something very unique. The opportunity as a photojournalist for something like this was once in a lifetime, also taking into consideration that this is the only B-29 that is flying.

The day after the reporter and I were on assignment for this we picked up a 90-year-old WWII veteran, Vinny Ranzino who was a Flight Engineer in the Army Air Corps that was on a B-29 in 1945 to bring him out to the Leesburg International Airport so he could see and relive a moment from his younger days. We captured his story while we were there and it was heartfelt and wonderful to see the smile on his face. He knew a lot about the aircraft and was excited to walk around with us as he touched the plane and even waited in line to climb up the ladder into the cockpit so he could sit in the same seat that he sat in 69 years ago. We climbed up with him, and for a brief moment as he placed his fragile hands upon the gears, Vinny was a young man again.


 Photos by Cal Gaines, Photojournalist









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The Value of a Photograph in a Sea of Photographers

What is the value of a photograph today? What does it mean to take a photo and is everyone a photographer? These are important questions with a variety of answers as our technology has grown exponentially and the word photographer is loosely used today. Having a smart phone in this day and age is helpful to capture a moment in time to share with the world, friends or family while making something look unique based on the user’s preference of style. It seems that the ideas conveyed among some people are tapping into a creative realm, which is also a good path for an individual that might be interested in pursuing something further in photography/arts, but by no means does having the vast amount of internet users liking one Instagram photo a thousand times over make everyone an artist or even a professional photographer. A good eye, yes… Right place at the right time, sure. Technical savvy, maybe. And a techy device that does everything automatically with little to no skill involved.

Technology has surely helped us progress into a digital age — it also has consequences about how we tap into and absorb information — making some out there cynical, even lazy. Die hard film photographers would probably look at most of the photographers today with a bad taste in their mouths while other old school film users embrace the future while still revisiting their original craft which got them to where they are today. A lot of people out there in the world really do have a great eye for interesting things or a moment arises to capture something that we as humans find fascinating and sharing it with others feels natural; this is the age of the internet with an overabundance of user data. But there are so many images and outlets to share that it feels overwhelming to try to absorb them all.

As a photojournalist I know what I want from a photograph and I was hired for the newspaper that I work at for a reason, but the question still stares at me down the barrel of a gun. What is a good photograph or for that matter with the millions of images that graze our brain waves for a split second daily, how does the outside world view what a ‘good’ photograph is, do they even care what they see? Lets take the internet for instance. A multitasking mindless vortex of open tabs, mouse clicking, index finger scroll surfing as information scatters across the screen while our creative awe-inspiring brains play janitors, sopping up an age of mess, an age of move quick, think quick and can’t sit still to see the bigger picture (not really absorbing anything, and I am at times probably guilty of this as well)! I know this isn’t everyone and people are different across the globe, but yes, there does exist a generation that I quite frankly think doesn’t care about a whole lot and I am still not sure if we should blame ourselves (because we all have some type of self-control), or should we be blaming the upper echelons of mass media.

It is just really hard to realize exactly how everyone thinks that they can be a photographer with the simple click of a phone or an instant filter to change a tone. The best photographer’s, artist’s, cook’s, teacher’s, writer’s, athlete’s, the list goes on an on. They got their start with a great idea or a dream. They followed it, worked on it over and over again with perfection not being an ending to their career, but an ongoing goal to make each day a triumph. If a phone, a small handy camera or an old inherited film camera is inspiring, then go after more teachings to learn as much as possible. Technology does help, but don’t let it dictate creativity. I guarantee you if for say Rembrandt used some kind of instant filter to create a masterpiece or Chef Gordon Ramsey used instant grits to make an amazing dish, these men would not be famous for their pursuits. But the person or people who created filters and instant grits now that probably took some creativity and a lot of trial and error. You see the road less traveled may sound more appealing at times, but it is not and it proves absolutely nothing. Ask anyone who works hard in any career field and I am certain they would say that to achieve something takes time, hard work, and dedication.

Bottom line is that these overabundance of images that can be found by typing in a few words on the internet are just that. They are images of moments in time that are saved forever. Some are taken with heart and soul while others are taken with nothing and a filter added to give some sort of ‘creativity,’ or life to the photograph that didn’t exist before it was taken. Sometimes this is okay for someone trying to be creative, but in no means is it worthy to call that person a photographer or even an artist. To be either of those things takes time. It takes sacrifice, it takes heart, it takes a willing individual who is trying their damnedest to make a career/a living in a creative field that is not set on automatic.

To anyone out there that reads this, seek out what you truly want. Don’t settle for second best, and if you have a passion and you want to pursue it, DO IT! You won’t regret it, you will only look back and think about what you could have been doing. If you love photography or anything else that inspires you, try to learn more. Challenge yourself to take a class and seek out new things. The sky is literally the limit. Do whatever it takes to reach the top and keep climbing.

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