Works of Art

About the guest blogger:
Airscape magazine is a new aviation e-zine dedicated to helping people who love aviation to find and connect with other parts of aviation   the goal of strengthening aviation. Currently masquerading as a blog until the e-magazine format becomes fully viable, it aims to step apart from the usual ’news’ content of magazines and explore the fascinating art, stories and people that populate the aviation world – and to show you things you didn’t even know you were interested in. Editor/Curator David Foxx is an advertising writer in real life, as well as being a lapsed private pilot with tailwheel, aerobatic and glider qualifications. He is based in Adelaide, South Australia. 
To see more, visit


The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was essentially a propaganda agency, promulgated by Franklin D Roosevelt on June 13th, 1942 as a unification of several domestic information agencies.

Many Americans were bewildered by their rapid progression from Great Depression, to Arsenal of Democracy, to co-belligerent. So Roosevelt charged the OWI with using press, radio, movies and other media to inform the domestic population about the war effort and what they were fighting for.

The aesthetics of aircraft construction

Among the OWI’s incredibly talented staff were its official photographer, Alfred T Palmer (1906 – 1993) and one of his staff, Howard R Hollem. And they quickly got to work.

Through the second half of 1942 and into 1943, these two photographers visited aircraft factories, training facilities and air stations all over the country, recording the effort and energy of the aviation industry.

Under Palmer’s leadership, a strong documentary style emerged, using strong contrast and bold colours to represent the determination and drive of America’s war work. Best of all, a huge body of this work is now kept in the US National Archives and in the Library of Congress. (You’ll find LoC call numbers for the photos in the descriptions below.)

While their work also covered the production of ships, tanks, guns, food and infrastructure, Palmer and Hollem clearly had an eye for the aesthetics of aircraft construction.

Selecting a mere handful for a gallery like this is an almost impossible task.Every photo is an absolute work of art, but there’s incredibly artistry in the subject matter as well. So these are images which emphasise that special elegance of forms, structures and engineering solutions that helps to make aircraft so beautiful.

However, there’s more to them than that.

Beyond art-filled images

Under the threatening skies of 1942, the USA needed armies of women and African-Americans to fill many essential roles. Their patriotic and capable response helped change events overseas and attitudes at home. American production, more than anything, would win the war – and the OWI clearly set out to salute these heroes of the home front.

So, beyond being art-filled images of airplane creation, these are photos of the dignity of work, of making rather than consuming, and of uniting for a common good.

While history and journalism focused on the fighting (and still do), Alfred T Palmer recorded the battle front that no-one should forget. This was America’s finest hour.

Stay tuned to airscape for a gallery of equally stunning monochrome photos from the OWI collection.


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