Ex-engineer Damien O’Mara photographs the mechanical beauty of planes.

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Structural engineer to artist is an unusual career segue, but Damien O’Mara cherishes the freedom to create work driven by personal creative interests. “I am coming to it as a second career, and can, with art making, do what I choose,” he says. “That has been very encouraging.”

In his solo show, Dreamliner, O’Mara has utilised his engineer’s understanding of aircraft in his photographs.

“We used to live under the flight-path here on the Gold Coast. I approached the airport and they gave me access to the planes on the tarmac. I did three shoots on the runway with the newest international aeroplane, the Dreamliner 787.” Introduced in 2015, the Dreamliner is innovative in its design and provided an ideal subject for his project which became an up-close and intimate portrait of the aircraft.

“I am interested in the way photography has drawn on the industrial modernist form,” O’Mara says, “Aeroplanes are contemporary machines. I wanted to present The Dreamliner in such a way as to allow it to be freed from modernist associations, by obstructing its completeness. I wanted to facilitate engagement with its details and components, to highlight their abstracted nature.”

Accordingly, O’Mara focuses on vignettes of planes. His images are painterly in the way they capture colour, light, shadow and reflection. In one image, a turbine in the foreground is suspended from the wing (allowing us to see within its stilled spinning parts) and it dwarfs the machines that are seen behind. Another detail of the side of an aeroplane becomes a symphony of curvilinear formations, picked out in dark and light, a flash of red, reflecting light and its own componentry. This creates a beautiful object that seems to contemplate its own image, with narcissistic connotations.

These images rebut the archetypal version of the plane: distant and complete, instead fragmenting and reshaping the way in which we may appreciate that, despite their weight and materials, they take flight. However, O’Mara also acknowledges their imperfections, an interesting point given that humanity is currently contemplating robotic and machine-dependent futures (at least partly to eliminate human error). O’Mara’s images describe a contemporary industrial machine as a contemporary symbol. “A lot of the images depict parts of the structure that aren’t necessarily positive,” he explains. “Some depict damaged panels, or panels repaired with tape, some depict dirty and corroded mechanical parts.”

The intrinsic attraction of machines for humanity, yet their fallibility, is implied in O’Mara’s work; certainly they render the built form as an intriguing extension of a human-constructed world.

Damien O’Mara: Dreamliner
Gold Coast Art Centre Gallery & Gold Coast Airport Arrivals Hall
27 August – 23 October

Louise Martin-Chew