Artist: Doug Aitken (American, born Redondo Beach, California, 1968)
Date: 1997, printed 2004
Medium: Chromogenic print
Dimensions: Image: 100.5 x 122 cm (39 9/16 x 48 1/16 in.)
Frame: 103.2 x 125.7 cm (40 5/8 x 49 1/2 in.)
Credit Line: Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2004
Accession Number: 2004.223
Rights and Reproduction: © Doug Aitken 1997
Aitken is best known for multiscreen video installations exploring the ways in which perception and consciousness are transformed by our global, technology-driven existence. Passenger belongs to a group of still photographs made in 1997 showing planes in flight, most of which focus on the faint traceries of takeoffs and landings over desolate airport landscapes. In its emphasis on luminosity and atmosphere, this example reveals Aitken's debt to older California artists such as James Turrell and Robert Irwin. It is also unabashedly sensual: Aitken's high production values-reminiscent of Technicolor cinematography and glossy advertising-refer directly to the media images that unavoidably condition our responses to the world.
There is something of the sublime in Aitken's photograph, however, in that it describes the limits of the visible while flooding the eye with color. Starting from an experience familiar to all air travelers of "two ships passing" in the ether, the artist proposes a more complex statement about the way we perceive reality-namely, that the one thing that we cannot see is ourselves seeing and thus that our understanding of the world is always partial and incomplete.