Our indexer Alex has finished describing the Carl J. and Dorothy L. Aho Photograph Collection which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives. Here’s what he has to say:
The Carl J. and Dorothy L. Aho Photograph Collection is comprised of 71 black and white photographs taken around the time of the Second World War, all pertaining to the United States Naval Air Transport Service. The majority of the photos involve airplanes, whether focusing on planes directly or taken from onboard flying aircraft, though several other photos depict the seemingly ordinary interactions of Naval Air Transport Service members. The result is a dynamic, variable collection full of dramatic movement and breathtaking perspective.
The photo “Dog teams near landing strip” is particularly striking, as it depicts a
pair of dog teams racing along a snow-covered runway while an airplane touches down in the distance. A sense of speed is palpable here, as both the dogsled teams and the airplane seem to hurtle toward the viewer. In fact, they seem almost to be racing. The stark contrast between the shadowy sled teams, the white snow, and the overcast sky invokes a feeling of inevitability, of fatedness, while the juxtaposition of the ages-old technology of the dogsled alongside the relatively new technology of the airplane seems painfully suggestive of the Earth-shattering changes that the War would bring.
In addition to these kinds of dynamic action shots, the Collection contains a number of aerial photographs that are equally striking, including some dreamy images of mountain peaks jutting through a floor of clouds, or volcanoes belching smoke into the atmosphere. My favorite of the aerial photography is entitled “Aerial view frozen river,” which depicts what might be considered a relatively ordinary (albeit panoramic) view of a river and a hillside. As a result of the intense contrast between the lightness of the river and the darkness of the hill, however, the image appears strange, abstracted, with a ribbon of light winding up through a valley of brushed felt. The effect is that, at first glance, we might not comprehend what we are seeing. This, to my mind, can make for an immensely gratifying artistic experience, as it suggests something powerful about the variability of experience, that things are not always what they seem, and that there are many different ways of looking at the world.
Finally, there are a number of photos depicting the actions of Naval Air Transport Service members, some of which are hauntingly beautiful (particularly “Village, probably Barrow” and “Two men near a box labeled ‘Top of the World Aerological Station, U.S. Navy’s Northern Most Outpost’”). The best (and best-named) of these images is “Men around table at Top of the World Club,” which, as you can imagine, depicts men lounging around a table in a Quonset hut. I’m struck here by the demeanor of the men, which seems so at ease, and the way the “club” seems so feebly yet so lovingly decorated. It strikes a kind of bittersweet chord, especially when paired with some of the other photos in the Collection, which often feature men in coats and boots, bundled up against the Alaskan winter, working hard to help win the War. Here, the men are in shirt sleeves. They are, for the time being, comfortable, at ease. So are we.