Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
For the past 15 years, Erin O’Boyle has sold Las Vegas in persuasive and calculating ways — through seductive photographs of golf courses and luxury homes and panoramic shots of the sparkling Strip skyline at dusk and the tranquillity of Lake Las Vegas at dawn.
You see O’Boyle photos on billboards, on the walls of new-home sales centers, in magazine ads and on the covers of annual reports. People around the world have seen work he did a generation ago, photos from a searing moment etched in our minds forever — far removed from the tranquil, sexy and inviting scenes he now enjoys.
O’Boyle fell in love with photography while chasing a career as an oceanographic engineer, the kind of person who works on submersibles, research ships, offshore oil rigs.
At the Florida Institute of Technology, he was required to take a photography class — not as an art, but as a science. It became his new passion.
He built a commercial photography business by taking photos for developers, architects, shipping companies.
Among his clients, too, were the aerospace companies drawn to Cape Canaveral during the heady days of the space shuttle program, which is why O’Boyle found himself flying in a Cessna at 4,000 feet on Jan. 28, 1986.
A client hired him to go aloft that cold Tuesday morning to photograph the launch of the shuttle Challenger.
O’Boyle framed the shot with the launchpad in the bottom left of his frame, the plume of the ignition billowing up from the pad, and with the contrail of the soaring Challenger, carrying seven astronauts, cutting diagonally across his frame, from lower left to upper right. The pilot slipped the plane to raise the wing out of O’Boyle’s composition.
These were film, not digital, cameras. He shot his first 36 frames as the shuttle rose, and quickly reloaded.
“I was looking through my camera — click, click, click, it was beautiful — and all of a sudden, the shuttle was spreading out in all different directions,” O’Boyle said. The Challenger had exploded and the nation gasped.
“Looking through the viewfinder, there was nothing I could do but keep shooting.”
He shot three rolls of film. After landing, O’Boyle called his photo agency in New York. Get that film up here, he was told. We’ve got buyers. O’Boyle drove to Orlando and put the rolls of film on an airplane.
The agency forwarded them to the European News Agency.
O’Boyle was told his pictures were widely published. But for the first time in his career, he didn’t see his photographs. Nor has he wanted to.