I have just been reading about Mary Meader who, during the 1930s, at the age of 21, traveled to South America and Africa to make aerial photographs of places never before photographed that way. Since I work with aerial photos, her story really caught my eye. My, what adventures this girl had!
The saga began when Mrs. Meader, whose name was Mary Upjohn at the time, and her first husband, Dr. Richard Light, made plans to marry. They wanted to celebrate their union by approximating the highly publicized round-the-world flight he had made in 1934. She took flying lessons and learned Morse code to be her husband’s co-pilot, navigator and radio operator.
When they were planning their trip, soon after their marriage the next year, many parts of the world had still not been photographed from above. The American Geographical Society was encouraging photographic flights to build an archive of aerial views, and the couple’s idea was to fly over huge swaths of South America and Africa that had never been captured on film from the air.
“It just seemed like a great adventure — something I wanted to do,” she said in an interview with Encore, a magazine about Kalamazoo, in 2006. “Why? I’m not certain, other than we both knew we would be doing something that hadn’t been done before.”
The couple made what may be the earliest photographs of the ancient Nazca lines in Peru. The lines cannot be recognized as coherent figures except from the air. Seen from above, their patterns range from simple designs to stylized hummingbirds and llamas.
In Africa, Mrs. Meader’s photographs showed the stunning ice dome and crater of Mount Kilimanjaro and the serrated glaciated pinnacles of Mount Kenya in beauty and detail impossible in ground photography. She provided new views of native villages, urban areas and the Pyramids of Egypt, among many other subjects.
Her African pictures were published in a book written by her husband and published by the American Geographical Society. In reviewing the book for The New York Times in 1941, Mary L. Jobe Akeley called Mrs. Meader’s photos “superb.”
“They convey a sense of the vastness and grandeur of the continent,” she wrote.
She went on to have four children, remarry and be a philanthropist to schools in Michigan. It sounds like her work is at Western Michigan University, so note to self: if ever near WMU, try to check out Mary's aerial photographs.
some articles about her: