A day at the beach is usually fun and relaxing, but a visit to Maho Beach might feel slightly more harrowing. The beach, located on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten, is right next to the short runway of the Princess Juliana International Airport. As beachgoers swim and play, noisy planes descend low overhead and the smell of kerosene fills the air. Photographer Josef Hoflehner and his son Jakob Hoflehner spent more than two months at this unique beach to make images for their book, Jet Airliner: The Complete Works. “It’s is an extraordinary place,” Josef Hoflehner said via email. “There simply isn’t anything like this airport anywhere on the planet. With all the heightened security we have today, one can not get that close to a plane anywhere else without buying a ticket.”
The Hoflehners made four trips to the island between 2009 and 2011, shooting every day for about three weeks at a time and making note of each landing plane’s flight information. “On average, there were only five or six passengers jets coming in per day, and often there as an hour or more between the landings,” Josef said. “It’s not like we were relaxing on the beach like other beachgoers. We had the cameras in our hands, standing on the beach, since you never know when exactly the plane is arriving. When we’d go to the restroom or go get something to drink, then the plane, which was usually late, would suddenly come in.”
The Hoflehners shot with two 6-by-6 Hasselblad SWC cameras, which meant they only had time to shoot one image per landing. “It’s pretty difficult since most people on the beach are in constant movement and you have to walk or run with them if you want them in the image,” he said. “And then there’s still the plane that’s coming in at over 100 miles per hour and you never know how low or high it will be, or if it will be slightly off the right or left. You only have a split second to take the shot or the plane is gone.”
None of the photographs in the series are staged, though in a few cases the Hoflehners saw people posing for photos with their friends and decided to grab the opportunity to take their own shots. “Most people didn’t even realize we were photographing them, since most other photographers at that time solely focused on the plane itself and didn’t use wide angle cameras. They used zoom, which is funny because the plane is so huge and it’s only a few meters away,” he said.