Learning to Fly: A Young Man Soars Above a Santa Monica Beach

A man flies off a trampoline, Santa Monica, 1948.
Loomis Dean—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A man flies off of a trampoline, Santa Monica, 1948.
Culture
'40s

With most pictures—and certainly with most pictures made by professional photographers—we can grasp what’s happening inside the frame the moment we lay eyes on it. If the photograph is in focus, and if the action or subject of the picture is remotely discernible, it takes the eye a mere instant to tell the brain what’s going on.

That’s a couple kissing. There’s a sunset. That’s a baseball player sliding into home.

But some photos capture scenes so unfamiliar—so outside the realm of what we usually see, or expect—that it can take a while to wrap our minds around what’s depicted. Case in point: This Loomis Dean picture, made on the beach in Santa Monica in 1948. We know, when we first encounter it, that the photograph depicts a beach scene. We know that the central figure in the composition is a human being. But many of us, for a good while, are unable to understand, to really grasp, what’s happening.

The caption—”A man flies off of a trampoline”—explains how that fellow ended up there, soaring effortlessly (it would seem) through the air. But some of us will see this picture for the first time and, for a fleeting moment, before it all becomes clear, we might think we’re seeing . . . what? A misguided diver about to face-plant in the sand? Icarus falling from the sky?

What do you see? And why?
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