CA: Your work that I'm familiar with is all color. Have you ever shot black-and-white for a "forties" look?
PM: No, I never have. I came out of painting, I was a colorist. I've never been able to draw. To me, black-and-white and drawing have a similarity. I always felt very comfortable as a painter in areas of color, and when I wandered out of movie-making into still photography I immediately went to making slide shows. The new book is essentially a slide show. I developed it with the idea that the continuous logic of a slide show would read sequentially and that there would be a story involved. The end result of that slide show will be a CD ROM, a super slide show that will contain everything. So, no, I've never done black-and-white. My photography has come to me from the Nikon manual and from personal experience. Painting is what I lean on.
CA: Do you do any of your own lab work, and if not, how did you settle on a lab that delivers consistent results?
PM: I process the film at the New Lab, in San Francisco, which is a terrific lab, having been strong and consistent for me for many many years. The reason I dropped Kodachrome was Kodak's switch from their own processing labs. All of a sudden it really went bad, and I was a lost boy for awhile. The only other thing was Ektachrome, which was awful. Thank God Fuji came along.
. After film processing, we do everything here. We make the prints; all the pictures you have seen published came from Cibachrome (Ilfochrome) prints. I've always felt that the Cibachromes had the look that I wanted. I don't do any masking. I choose pictures that I know will print without it. There's a whole range of contrasty transparencies that I still have in my archives that maybe, with the digital stuff, I'll be able to balance. For now, if they don't print on Ciba, then nobody ever sees them.
CA: What are some of the hazards and safety concerns relative to this activity?
PM: The hazards of aviation photography are certainly very serious, and the consequences are very great. There are very few WW II airplanes flying these days; it's a very small crowd of people that fly them and massage them, and every year we lose thirty or forty people to accidents of one type or another. I've seen some god-awful accidents. When the planes go down, they go down in a terrible, terrible way. They're big, they're fast, they're very heavy, and they fall like stones, carrying everybody with them. It's a violent sport, a violent game. The people I work with are very good at it, but a small mistake can be very serious.
CA: Do you choreograph your shoots extensively beforehand, or do you do a lot of on-location ad-libbing?
PM: You have to ad-lib. The hand of fate won't allow you to define what's going to happen. You saw those drawings I made; I always try to describe what I think should happen, and we all try politely to fit into that perceived, hoped-for event. As today we took off headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge; at 12:30 when we passed the bridge it was lovely, and when we came back for photography at 2:30 there was only one tower showing and a little hollow of ground visible through the clouds. So all of a sudden the whole event changed, with too many planes to stuff into the space (the small clearing in the clouds), and it was not working. You can't control things; the factor of weather is too powerful, the factor of mechanical problems is too powerful, all the little mistakes that can happen. Often you go up and you can't even find each other. We try to choreograph it, but good luck!
CA: How do you obtain your head-on shots?
PM: I shoot out the tail of a B-25. In some situations, you can take the tail (the Plexiglas tail-gunner's bubble) off, put on a big ol' belt and tie yourself in with huge ropes tied to large parts of the airplane, and hang your feet out the back. That's terrific! It's pretty awesome to
there with your feet dangling out the end of the airplane, going two hundred miles
an hour, with the ground five thousand feet away. The airplanes can fly right up
to your feet. I've got some pictures of Steve Hinton in the Planes of Fame P-38 where
I could almost kick the nose of the plane. I have a 30-year collection of pictures
of my feet, but I was so stunned by the experience of having him right there that
I missed that shot. All I had to do was put my feet up and I'd have had my all-time
best foot shot. I blew it!