Construction/Destruction deals with a collection of glass plate negatives taken by Orville and Wilbur Wright to document their flying machine experiments between 1898 and 1911 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and Dayton, Ohio. To protect their discoveries and progress, the Wright brothers were secretive about the details of their flying experiments and made few prints from these negatives. The plates were eventually stored in a shed on the Wright family property in Dayton and were damaged in the Great Dayton Flood of 1913, the greatest natural disaster in Ohio’s history. Many of the negatives contain marks, cracks, and tears where the photographic emulsion began to break away.
There is a compelling juxtaposition between these marks and the documented flying experiments. Although progress toward a grand invention is captured, the marks become suggestions of disaster. Some of the marks are reminiscent of explosions in the sky, perhaps foretelling the violent and destructive potential of the invention. Indeed, World War I began the year after the flood, and the fighter aircraft soon emerged.
Like the photographic exposures, the flood blemishes capture a moment in time. They are part of the life of the negative, and part of the Wright brothers’ story. Using digital tools, I emphasize the relationship between the flying machines and blemishes by isolating them together in an empty white space. The flying machines sway, mimicking the motion that made fixed-wing, powered flight possible and satisfied the human desire to fly.