While filing photographs at the Library of Congress, Barbara Orbach Natanson was momentarily startled by a 1920 picture that looked as if Portland, Oregon was being attacked from above. "How frightening would it have been to be on the streets," she asked herself, "when these airplanes swooped overhead?"

The answer, she tells us, is not frightening at all, because it turns out this is a composite photograph of an event that never happened:

"Composite" photographs are made by combining two or more negatives into a single picture. Portland-based photographer C.S. Woodruff apparently was fascinated by airplanes and envisioned a day when they would be as affordable as automobiles. He shared his vision by creating a picture that merged separate images to populate the skies over downtown Portland.


One of her colleagues noted a visual parallel to another imaginative swarm of airplanes: this display of model airplanes decorating the ceiling of the train concourses at Union Station in Chicago in 1943, when military aircraft were more on peoples' minds than the potential for personalized air transport:

"Together, the two images suggest that when some people look up, they see a blank slate begging to be filled," says Natanson.


[Via Picture This, the Library of Congress' print and photo blog]