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Picturing The Wild Blue Yonder

Photographer Philip Handleman, whose photograph of the Cadet Chapel forms the basis for the upcoming Air Force Academy stamp, talked with The Virtual Stamp Club about the project.

"I'm deeply honored that the Postal Service and the Air Force have selected my photograph of the Cadet Chapel as the image to be featured on the postage stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of the academy's founding.

"I think when your photograph is incorporated on a postage stamp a whole lot of additional people get to see your picture. I know that in the case of the last such honor that I had, which was my photograph of the Air Force Thunderbirds being featured on the postage stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, that 45 million were printed, so a whole lot of people who might not otherwise have seen that picture got to see it that way.

"This picture grew out of the desire that I had in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy to try to express the spirit and the resolve of our uniformed military in standing fast. I volunteered my service to an individual with whom I had worked in the past at the Postal Service, and he suggested this project. There was, of course, no guarantee that my photograph would be chosen, but I was offered the opportunity to participate in that competition, and here we are a few years later.

"No, I didn't [attend the Academy], but I must say that it's one of the most inspiring places that I've ever visited, because of the spirit that is evinced by the young men and women who choose to start their careers by joining the cadet wing.

"No, I don't [collect stamps]. I like to use the aviation-related stamps as much as I can, because I've been a pilot for the last 32 years, so when I see the Postal Service doing stamps with an aviation or aerospace theme, I do become intrigued and I do have a special drawer for those stamps, but I'm not really what you would call a stamp collector.

"The Air Force was extremely cooperative and I was able to fly with some of our great pilots over the Academy grounds, so I had the opportunity to do some aerial photography, and that's something that is a little out of the ordinary, for most of us who do spend time taking pictures. But it was really a matter of scouting the locations and coming up with a variety that we thought would convey the grandeur, the majesty, the message that we all seem to feel [is] important, that should be conveyed on this, the 50th anniversary of the institution.

"The image that is now incorporated on the forthcoming stamp is photographed from the southeast corner of the Cadet Chapel and it was done at the crack of dawn, so you had some very interesting light shining on the building and it gives off an amber glow at its base, and a purplish tone across the glass exterior wall. I think it's rather interesting.

"It was just a pleasure and an honor working on this project and having the opportunity to spend time with the young men and women who have chosen to embark upon their military careers by joining the cadet wing at the Academy. They're a great inspiration for me and I'm sure they would be for all of my fellow citizens. It's just a profound honor. I find it hard to verbalize just how exciting, how proud I am to have had this honor, and I do hope that the image, when it does come out on the stamp, which will be next spring, that those folks who see it and who use it will feel as I do: A great pride in the institution that is generating these dedicated young people to preserve and protect our freedom."

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