On a plane trip ten years ago photographer Jane Regan decided on a whim to take a picture of the airplane’s wing from inside the cabin. “It was visually intriguing,” she says. “So I started taking more.” Each time she flew, she experimented with a different type of camera–from disposable panoramic jobs to more complicated professional models. “Plastic cameras do a strange optical thing,” she says. “Sometimes they have a sharp focus, other times it’s really blurry.”

Regan, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute and runs the photography department at Harold Washington College, started working seriously on the wing photos five years ago. For each flight (most trips were to New Jersey to visit her family), she requested a window seat and started clicking as soon as the plane took off, always looking for changes in the light. She says she tried to capture the weightless, neither-here-nor-there feeling she experiences on airplanes. “These are not random pictures,” she says. “I always watch the wing when I fly–I’m always looking for when it touches the horizon line.” Nicks, scratches, and bubbles in the windows are incorporated into the photos, which are both black-and-white and color. The wing may be partially obscured by shadows or the curve of the window. Regan digitally manipulated some pictures, giving a couple an architectural quality recalling medieval fortresses. Another looks like a space station.

For the most part her fellow fliers ignored her when she started shooting. But once Regan was on a night flight to Fargo with three other passengers in a tiny plane. “I was using a little point-and-shoot with a flash,” she says. “I didn’t know you can’t take a flash picture on the plane. I guess it really freaks the pilot out. The stewardess came by and said, ‘You can’t do that,’ and I said I was sorry. But I actually like that photograph quite a bit.”

For a journey last year from Anchorage to Chicago she brought a noisy old medium-format camera that was so big and strange looking the other passengers started to stare. “People across the aisle were like, ‘Oh, look!’ and then everyone started taking pictures,” she says.

“A lot of my students and other people have been giving me wing pictures, and it’s not at all the same thing. My students show them to me and say, ‘Look, I really like it,’ and I say, ‘I bet you do.'”

“Weightless,” a new exhibit of Regan’s work, opens Saturday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington (312-744-6630). A free reception for Regan takes place there next Friday, February 18, from 6 to 8.

–Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.