From the Archives (2015)

November 28, 2017 2 Comments

Manhattan – American Airlines Flight 11 – 2001

There are some stories out there that have survived, pretty much intact, across centuries. The myth of Daedalus and Icarus, as told by Ovid (Metamorphoses VIII: 183 – 235), is one of those. The narrative describes father and son attempting to flee exile in Crete. Daedalus fashions them wings and warns of flying too low or too high. In one case the sea will dampen and weigh down the feathers, in the other case the sun will melt the wax with which they are affixed. In flight, Icarus is overcome by the joy of soaring and plummets to his death after coming too near to the sun.

Manhattan – United Airlines Flight 175 – 9/11/2001

The myth has often been interpreted as an admonition to stay away from extremes and follow the middle path. It has also been called an example of hubris, attempting behavior reserved for the Gods.

Hudson River, NY – United Airways Flight 1549 – 2009 (Birdstrike)

For us who have witnessed a lifetime of airplane disasters the myth provides the easy analogy of things falling out of the sky. As a cognitive psychologist, I am, however, more concerned with the parallels the myth offers regarding the assumption of being in control, falling for the illusion of control. Daedalus was fully aware of the dangers and surely was no fool; nonetheless he was certain he could handle the situation – a certainty that cost him his son. Icarus was warned but got swept up by his desires and threw caution to the wind. In a similar fashion, we invent and use technology; we set national and global policies and make economic or military decisions about situations we consider controllable – or better yet, controlled. Unlike Icarus, we often lack information or warning, but, like Daedalus, we are often alert to the risks but convinced we can handle them – and are profoundly mistaken. The result sometimes involves the same fate as Icarus’ – falling from the sky – and sometimes takes other equally tragic forms.

Schiphol (AMS)  – El Al Flight 1864 1992

Free Fall  (2015) was a series of photomontages that were intended to remind us of the fallacy described above. The images are composed of photographs that I took either on site or that came from geographic areas that I felt could be stand-ins for sites that I had no access to (Ukraine; South China Seas.) The montages are linked to the story of Icarus via images of birds and to modern tragedy through the disaster locations they include or refer to. They were my take on some of the tragic consequences of the illusion of control.

Miami (MIA) – ValuJet Flight 596 1992


And for balanced reporting, here is something to make you smile and feel a bit safer:




  1. Reply

    Carl Wolfsohn

    November 28, 2017

    Beautiful! Can’t wait for your Saturday exhibition.

  2. Reply

    Sara Lee

    November 28, 2017

    I smiled! Let’s hear it for “balanced reporting!”