A monthlong seaward expedition in search of Amelia Earhart's missing aircraft became a study in meditation, though not stillness, for a Chicago photographer widely esteemed for her visual accounting of artifacts.
The search, the subject of
The endeavor was a muse, though, for the mindful awareness that comes from being submerged in a single task 24 hours a day, seven days a week, day after day after day.
With no email.
"You leave your life on hold," says Rubin, who gladly did just that to join The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery's mission to uninhabited Nikumaroro in the southwestern Pacific's
Rubin, nationally known for her still-life photography and film direction, spent her childhood admiring Earhart, who in 1932 became the first woman (and second person) to fly solo across the
In more recent years, Rubin has admired the work of Ric Gillespie, founder and executive director of the nonprofit TIGHAR (pronounced "tiger") and author of "Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance" (U.S. Naval Institute Press). Gillespie led the 18-person research crew that spent last month seeking wreckage from Earhart's aircraft.
Rubin caught wind of the excursion shortly before its launch, tracked Gillespie down and invited herself along.
"It was very unusual," Gillespie says, laughing. "A couple weeks before we were about to depart, Laurie calls me up and says, 'I've been following what you do, and I think it's really great. I shoot photos of artifacts that have historic significance and I'd like to shoot your artifacts.' "
He liked her work and warmed quickly to the idea of having a professional still photographer on board, as opposed to relying on the 15,000 or so amateur images he and his crew members typically shoot with their phones or point-and-shoots.
"I said, 'Laurie, it's two weeks away, and you've never met me,' " Gillespie says. "And she said, 'Yeah, well. I'm flexible.'
" 'You can be away for a month with a shipload of people you've never met?' " he asked. " 'Yeah, I can do that.' "
And they were off.
"It started out like a blind date where you're going to this place, and you can't get off or decide, 'I don't like this' or 'I'm leaving early,' " says Rubin, who recounted her tale recently in the serene backyard of her
Rubin and her shipmates were limited to sending four kilobytes a day — about one text message — and bunked in rooms that were smaller, Rubin noted, than the ship's walk-in freezer. And there was that constant rocking. ("We are all walking down the narrow corridor looking like drunks," Rubin wrote in her journal on July 4, the first day at sea.)
"It was definitely not posh," she says. "It was definitely not a cruise ship."
But it was an enterprise she won't soon forget, from the fresh-caught yellow fin sushi dinners to the 110-degree, on-the-equator, lens-fogging heat to the unparalleled access to history in the making.
The objective of the expedition, as described on TIGHAR's website (tighar.org), was to locate, identify and photograph any surviving aircraft wreckage from Earhart's Lockheed Electra using high-frequency side-scan sonar equipment mounted on an unmanned underwater vehicle. Gillespie's extensive research leads him to believe Earhart and Noonan made a forced landing on the island's flat coral reef.
Rubin and Gillespie are tight-lipped about what they found on this most recent expedition, pointing to the Discovery Channel special for a complete rendering of the mission. Numerous post-mission accounts report that the search was largely inconclusive. At the end of July, Gillespie told
Nonetheless, Rubin's experience, and the attendant
Rubin, for her part, returned to Chicago in early August with a new appreciation for solid ground. And for the mission that aims to assign answers to a story she grew up contemplating.
"I'd love to go again," she says of Gillespie's future endeavors. "If he'll have me, I'll be there."
Notes from the sea
Chicago photographer Laurie Rubin shared with us portions of her journal from her voyage aboard the ship searching for wreckage from Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra. Some excerpts:
July 4: There is a full breakfast laid out. Bacon, eggs, sausages and fruit, yogurt, pancakes.
July 24: Today is Amelia Earhart's birthday. If Ric is correct and she survived the landing, she would have celebrated her 40th birthday on Niku.
July 26: Books I have read so far: Amelia Earhart Biography (two times);