Life after death in a boneyard of planes.

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Troy Paiva grew up in a house filled with airplanes. His father was a flight engineer, his brother a photographer, and the two influences converged around a fascination with junkyards, abandoned buildings, military bases and ghost towns.

But rather than photograph them by day, Paiva embarked on his very first shoot at night, by the light of a full moon. “I didn’t know an f-stop from a bus-stop,” he says. “But I travelled down Route 66 shooting abandoned rest stops and gas stops using time exposures.”

It set his course for a project that would last 25 years. Every full moon, Paiva would “go nocturnal”, sleeping in third-rate motels by day, roaming junk yards by night. “This is the only photography I do, night photography, abandoned stuff. I love the act of doing it—being in the junk yard in the full moon, the coyotes howling, jack-rabbits popping out everywhere.”

The light of the moon gave the images a haunting, surreal quality, the star trails a sense of time passing. Paiva used the technique of light-painting to fill in the deep shadows and coloured gels added a “cinematic quality”. The effect reanimated the objects, brought them to life.

“I’m making a picture rather than taking a picture,” he says. “To be honest, I don’t really care about photography, I just like the act of being in these places and creating something from nothing.”

In 1990, Paiva’s search for “lost America” brought him to Mojave Airport, one of the few places in the American West where airplanes go to be stored or broken up. There his love of aviation connected with the themes of his photography.

“It was so evocative. You think of airplanes as permanent things, as great technical achievements, but really they’re no different to refrigerators or Toyotas,” he says. “It’s mortality. People love to be reminded of that, whether it’s watching a horror movie or contemplating the progress of history.”

Paiva’s work of 25 years has anticipated a worldwide fascination with decay and abandonment. Today, photostreams are full of images of rust, dust and entropy.

“The current generation is obsessed with the zombie apocalypse, and I inadvertently tapped into that zeitgeist. It’s a death obsession, but not with the death of people, rather with structures, places, even a way of life.

“It’s all a commentary on impermanence. Everything is finite, even the human species. We’re all destined for the boneyard.”

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