museum ticket and colour film

5 Frames of old aircraft in Latvia with an Olympus OM-1, a Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 and Kodak Ektar 100 – By Michael Jardine

I was inspired by a recent 35mmc post to put together a set of 5 photos of the Riga Air Museum in Latvia, which I visited this summer at breakneck speed (and only just caught my flight back to Copenhagen) against the protestations of the museum guy that he hadn’t shown me the best bits yet… and anyway I grabbed my partner’s OM-1 with a 28mm lens on it to get as much stuff in the frame as possible, stuck a roll of Ektar 100 in it – I’m not especially familiar with camera, lens or film – and took some pictures.

The museum is a spare lot on the edge of Riga Airport. I would guess that the exhibits are all the hardware that was left behind when the Soviet Union ceased to trade at the end of 1991. There had been a good deal of drama in the Baltic Republics, and I can’t imagine the question of what to do with this stuff was at the top of people’s minds. I’d spotted the monster heavy-lift helicopter (Mil Mi-6 “Hook”) through a window in the terminal on a previous visit and was keen to take a better look another day. There are lots of photos on the Web of the equipment here as I guess it’s one of the better collections in Europe that isn’t in Russia itself. It’s seen better days, with clear plexiglass in the canopies and bright paintwork on older photos but I’d argue it’s all mellowed out rather nicely and looks a lot less likely to hurt anyone.

decrepit Soviet aeroplane

The first picture is of an Ilyushin Il-28 “Beagle”. This was a 1950s bomber aircraft, probably analogous to the British Canberra, of which I think the North Koreans are still flying Chinese copies. It had a plexiglass nose at some point- even the Soviet airliners had them- which has been taped-up or replaced with an opaque material. I love the patina on this, the weather-streaks on the rivets and the ghost of the number ‘38’

One of the many contradictions in my life is between my committed personal position against militarism and war, and my childlike wonder at military vehicles and especially aircraft. They have amazing shapes, details and aesthetics, that should be artistic flourishes but are obviously highly specific to efficiencies within their murderous purpose. We had a lecture in my Architecture undergrad about why American Cold-War-era spacecraft looked like soup cans and the Soviet ones looked like miniature versions of St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the look of Soviet military hardware is likewise very particular.

two decrepit Soviet helicopters
“Hoplite” and “Hound”

Next there are a couple of early Soviet helicopters, from left-to-right a Mil Mi-2 “Hoplite” and a Mil Mi-4 “Hound”. Part of the joy of looking at Soviet aircraft is the faintly ridiculous NATO reporting names they were given, which I take great pleasure in appending to the examples here. This “Hound” has taken on a fetching pink hue as the seasons have ravaged its red civilian paintwork and its curious deep-sea-creature bearing. It also has landing gear at the front that resembles a scaffolding tower or a supermarket trolley and may still have a huge rotary piston engine in its nose. The rotor-blades cast wonderful shadows on a day like this.

decrepit Soviet fighter plane

Tied to a post like a dog outside the newsagents (I think the rope and peg are actually to remind me not to go and hug the fuselage) is a Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig-15 “Fagot” in a two-seat training variant. It still wears its number and the split intake at the front recalls a scholarly drawing of a prehistoric shellfish, fossilised much like this old aeroplane which had its heyday in the era of the Korean War. The film and the camera’s metering have done a pretty good job of keeping highlights and shadows under reasonable control here.

cockpit sections of three aeroplanes
“Cookpot”, “Cleat” and “Coke”

A strange and glorious exhibit is the cockpit-sections of three airliners, lined up as if they were hunting-trophies on the wall of a giant plane-spotter’s hallway. From left, Tupolev Tu-124 “Cookpot”, Tu-114 “Cleat” and Antonov An-24 “Coke”. You can still fly short-haul in the regions of Russia and the former Soviet Union in the latter if you’re feeling brave. There’s a thing about having glass noses on these machines- for practicing bomb-aiming on a slow day? – although I can’t imagine you would be able to see very much through them these days. Unlike the history of their times, they are certainly less transparent with the passage of time. The typologies and history of these planes are interesting- like the military aircraft they evolved in parallel to those of the rest of the world, and I had a great time with the internet identifying them.

decrepit Soviet helicopter

The last of my pick of five photographs is a side-on view of a Mil Mi-8 “Hip”- the world’s most produced helicopter which has many wonderful bits for the feature-oriented- some rocket-launching contraptions, a fearsomely complicated hub on the top, blades showing with age their reptilian segments, big clamshell doors at the back, lovely lines of rivets, a mouldy old red star and a strange tube down only one side. I think this might be my favourite frame of the whole film, with the angle of the sunlight showing off the fundamental curves of the thing and the dents and ripples in the panels. I like all the circles too: of the exhausts, the windows with their nautical appearance and the wheels.

The Olympus OM-1 is a superb camera, but you probably all knew that already. My partner and I agree that Jane Bown’s pictures are also superb, and we enjoyed a great documentary called “Looking For Light” available on Amazon Prime which is both very moving and shows how brilliant her work is. I therefore persuaded Maggie to acquire the OM-1  (as used by Bown), so I could have my Pentax MX back. The Olympus does everything the Pentax does (apart from tell you what aperture and shutter speed you’re using in the viewfinder) with so much more mechanical finesse and one of the very best-sounding film SLR shutters. I’m also surprised that the shutter-speed control on the lens-mounting wasn’t more widely adopted as it quickly gives you so much control without having to take your eye away from the finder. I’ve obviously had to give it back so couldn’t depict it in the featured image above. It was such a sunny summer’s day and the light was fantastic so I just shot away at everything at f11 and 1/250th- processing is by Exposure Film Labs with their nice ‘sloppy borders’ option. The Ektar was pretty much what I could find in July this year in the Great Colour Negative Film Drought of 2022 and its results are pleasing. I’ve a couple of rolls left which I look forward to using.

Thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “5 Frames of old aircraft in Latvia with an Olympus OM-1, a Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 and Kodak Ektar 100 – By Michael Jardine”

  1. These are really interesting photos Michael! I love the look of Ektar for these aircraft too – very fine detail and great colours. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Michael Jardine

      Yeah, it’s pretty crisp isn’t it? Thanks for your kind words- I had so much fun taking the photos and putting some thoughts together on them.

  2. These are lovely pictures, and I really like the slowly-rotting cold-war aircraft. Obviously the OM-1 is not really a better camera than the MX though, since there *is* no better 35mm SLR than the MX. You must report for reeducation at once…

    1. Michael Jardine

      Ha! I’m pretty committed with M-series Pentax bodies, lenses and a KS-2 DSLR so unlikely to jump ship any time soon. I’ve seen comparisons of the MX with the Nikon FM2 (the only Nikon film SLR I’ve ever used and a v. nice camera) but actually in terms of its compact nature and therefore the likelihood of having it to hand when there’s good things to shoot, the OM1 is very interesting to compare to my (most cherished) MX…

  3. Enjoyed your article and thanks for the link to Jane Bown. Just watched it and there are some amazing portraits along with insights into how the Observer worked.

  4. I always wondered if there was a special committee responsible for those NATO codenames. Every time a new helicopter came out they would have to scour the dictionary for new two-syllable words, and argue about which one was best.

    “Hookworm?” “Hmm.”
    “Ok, what about Honey?” “Too cute.”
    “I know – Hoplite! That sounds cool.”

    Nice pics, and good choice of camera 😉

  5. Michael, congratulations on an excellent article and photographs. As a kid, I had a bit of an obsession with Cold War military hardware. It’s weirdly reassuring to see these metal hulks looking so benign and bearing the beauty of slow decay.

    1. Hi Michael,

      Nice pictures showing what Ektar and a nice lens will do for you! I share your position on militarism and the fascination with military hardware. Back in the day, West-Germany had the draft and I refused to serve in the army but opted for serving 20 months as a helping hand in a psychiatric hospital. Yet, all things military intrigue me… So I couldn’t help but try to research the “strange tube” on the starboard side of the Mil 8. If I am not mistaking, it is an outboard fuel tank that doubles to house cabin heater equipment and the air intake for that in its nose. Probably one of the least useful bits of info ever to be published on this website, but there it is. Anyway, if you have a fascination with military aircraft, I recommend a trip to Rechlin, Germany. It is a former testing facility of the Luftwaffe of the dark days and served as a Soviet / East-German Air base in the cold War. There are two museums there, both privately run. One is a very professional organization with an amazing collection of original and replica German aircraft of WWI and II and also Soviet aircraft. The other is more or less a collection of debris from the airfield in a couple of run down workshops and sheds, but that is just as fascinating. Keep shooting film whatever with!

      Cheers, Stefan

      1. Michael Jardine

        Hi Stefan, thanks for your thoughts, your affirmation that my curiosity for these things is shared by at least one other rational being, your research on the ‘strange tube’ and your suggestion of a visit to Rechlin which looks incredible! They appear to have lots of the sorts of cut-away exhibits and crazy prototypes that give you strange dreams.

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