Fly or dive? The spirit of the birdman
When a flying machine is made in the shape of a flying horse, a dragon head or a television set, I wonder if anyone expects that it will really fly.
That was the case at a birdman competition held this week at a downtown lake in Jiangmen, a city in China’s southern Guangdong province.
Dozens of contestants only took a few seconds to nosedive straight into the water, right after taking off in these “flying machines”. Some of the inventions, mainly made of foam and fiber, fell apart before hitting the lake. Others flew further with broken wings. Out of 34 contestants, a couple managed to fly as far as 50 meters.
I tried to symbolize dreams of flying in an image showing a contestant on a flying horse, with another birdman in the background, waiting his turn. “I am scared,” the one sitting on the horse said to me. “I try not to think about how I’m going to fail. I just want to take the chance to fly my way.”
I covered them ‘flying’ from as many angles as I could. I shot on the take-off ramp, from several side-on positions on the ground and from head on, with focal length lenses ranging between a 16 mm wide-angle to 300mm telephoto. My initial plan to bring a 500mm super telephoto was dropped after reading information on the official website about the site and the size of the flying machines. The lens raincoat I took was useful due to rains after a typhoon hit the day before.
The take-off ramp became slippery in the rain. Without a safety belt, I stayed away from the edge of the slope. On several occasions those helping push the flying machines to take off fell into the lake because of the slippery surface. One of them was left hanging in mid-air by his safety belt. I couldn’t imagine myself taking a dive with all the camera equipment.
One might ask themself why the participants even bother to build something that has already been fully developed. Why not use the money spent on these toys to buy a flight ticket for a real flying experience? It’s so easy and safe.
To me, ignoring the enthusiasm of these participants undermines the human spirit — the desire to explore, to discover new knowledge and to gain experience through trial and error. Those who spend their time making their own machines and risk their lives flying with them deserve to be respected.
As a “professional witness”, my duty was to freeze those flying (or diving) moments in a way that keeps this spirit alive.