For the past four years, photographer Garrett Fisher has climbed into the narrow cockpit of his 1940s Piper PA-11 Cub Special aircraft, armed with a camera and an iPad. In the pilot’s seat, devoid of modern instruments, Fisher has taken to the skies. The iPad rarely gets used—it’s a fail-safe in case he gets lost, but he navigates mainly by sight. The camera is to capture the vistas that unfold below him.
The use of a Piper PA-11 might be a surprising choice for aerial photography, owing to its lack of creature comforts—as a lightweight propeller-driven aircraft, it has no electrical instruments, no heat and until last year, no radio. It does have a long history, though, in Fisher’s family. It was built in the 1940s and used as a crop duster in the 1950s and 1960s before being warehoused in 1974. Fisher’s grandfather began restoring it in 1988.
“My grandfather restored it over 8 years and handed the keys over for me to start lessons at age 16. Nothing flies like that airplane,” he says. He has a few complaints (“Trust me, I would like some more power and some…you know…heat”) but he has also grown accustomed to its quirks. Even photographing from the PA-11 is a pared-down experience: Fisher simply opens the right door and left window, and shoots.
Weaving high across the plains of his home state, Wyoming, seeing Yellowstone National Park by air, and photographing vast acres of farm fields as far afield as North Carolina, Fisher looks for patterns and textures in landscapes that, from the ground, go unobserved. Above all, he’s looking for “visual purity.” “No unwanted buildings, cars, roads, or other things can enter the image,” he says.
Aerial photography provides an exceptionally unique point of view. From above, farm fields, normally flat and featureless, come alive with textures and shapes. With elevation, vast mountain ranges look like wrinkled paper. Patterns and tones emerge, that would otherwise go unseen.
For Fisher, a new adventure awaits. After years photographing a vast expanse of the USA—from Wyoming to Virginia—he has packed up his beloved PA-11 and moved to Germany. After reassembling the plane, he’ll explore Europe from 1,500 feet.