“Every child ought to have the opportunity to travel thousands of miles alone,” Tweedy said, “for the sake of her self-esteem and independence of mind, with clothes and toiletries of her own choosing. The sooner we get them in the air, the better. Like swimming or ice skating. You have to start them young. It’s one of the things I’m proudest to have accomplished with Bee. I sent her to Boston on Eastern when she was nine. I told Granny Browner not to meet her plane. Getting out of airports is every bit as important as the actual flight. Too many parents ignore this phase of a child’s development. Bee is thoroughly bicoastal now. She flew her first jumbo at ten, changed planes at O’Hare, had a near miss in Los Angeles. Two weeks later she took the Concorde to London. Malcolm was waiting with a split of champagne.”
This passage from Don Delillo’s White Noise reminded New Orleans-based photographer Sophie Lvoff of her childhood spent flying alone. She grew up in Europe and would often travel to visit relatives in the United States and Russia—including Yasnaya Polyana, the home of Leo Tolstoy, of whom Lvoff is a descendant.
Delillo is Lvoff’s favorite author, and with him in mind she took the bus out of Brooklyn one day in 2007 to JFK International Airport to circumnavigate and photograph it. She had always considered airplanes beautiful—Delillo describes them as gleaming silver objects. She has frequently featured large, grey skies in her photographs, which make her think of the “airborne toxic event” in White Noise unleashed by an industrial accident that taints the outdoor light.
In Delillo’s Underworld, he describes a B-52 graveyard. Falling Man is his “9/11 novel,” and as Lvoff circled the airport, capturing pictures of take-offs and landings, she wondered about what it meant to photograph planes in New York after 9/11.
She soon found out, in a way.
A U.N. summit was set to take place the next day in Manhattan, and airport security picked her up on suspicion of terrorism-related activities. She sat in airport jail for the day while the CIA interrogated her, called her roommates to verify her story. Eventually, they let her go with no hassle—and, in fact, an escort! They took her around to see the test-crash airplane where firefighters practice hosing down blazes, but that wasn’t the image that interested Lvoff. She made them drive her to places where she had a good vantage and simply took pictures of airplanes falling from and rising into the great grey sky.
You can see more of Lvoff’s work at sophielvoff.com.