Last summer at Oshkosh, during the event known as "AirVenture", I was having a casual conversation with Debby Rihn-Harvey, while making a few portraits of her for Women in Aviation International. We were away from the main hubbub that is Oshkosh, in the Weeks Hangar. It is where all the aerobatic pilots keep their aircraft during the week of the show. It is large, secure, and close enough to maintenance help, should it be necessary. We were shooting in an area off the main floor, where we had set up an impromptu studio.
At some point during the conversation, the subject of the WASP's (Women Airforce Service Pilots) came up. I knew there were a few in attendance at Oshkosh, but knew little more than that. I was primarily there to photograph the female airshow pilots during the week, so the WASP's weren't on my schedule, and I had no more than a passing thought to photographing them. I remarked to Debby that it was a real shame that no pictures (of the "formal" type) were being made of the group. Immediately, and I mean immediately, she pulled out her cell phone and made one phone call.
Ninety minutes later, six of the eight in attendance at the airshow were before my camera. I was thunderstruck, and yet didn't have a lot of time to dwell on it. We (Debby helped!) immediately set about re-arranging the lights and the background, and began making individual portraits, and several group pictures.
Although we probably only spent about 45 minutes together, it was magical. They were such a lively bunch, with wonderful stories to tell. It was quite obvious that they really had the “time of their lives” flying during World War II. P-51’s, B-17’s, B-24’s and B-26’s were just a few of the aircraft that these ladies had flown...and flown well. I felt very fortunate to have been offered this opportunity to make photographs of such significance.
Fast forward to the spring of 2010, and the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington, D.C. A few weeks before they were to all be in D.C. for the ceremony, it was suggested that several large prints be made, so that they could all autograph them while there. This was done, and I’m happy to report that we also made enough extras for each of them to each take home an autographed copy as well.
Three of these large prints have been donated to the EAA in Oshkosh, to be auctioned off at the Gathering of Eagles this summer. The proceeds will be used to further EAA’s youth education programs.
My Thanks! to Debby for making it happen, and to the others who were instrumental in this process. I have a feeling that the prints are going to be highly sought after this summer. Bring your checkbook!