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Aviation Photographer Laird Kay’s Sky-High Keepsakes

In this new series we get a rare glimpse inside the curious minds of collectors. What objects turn their crank? How do they procure this memorabilia? And why are these items so treasured? Let’s start with Toronto aviation photographer Laird Kay

By Tory Healy
Photography by Laird Kay

Sometimes when you’re working on a home feature, another story idea will present itself. This happened to us when we were shooting the home of Raymond Girard and Laird Kay last summer. The home itself is a beacon of modern design located deep in the heart of a Burlington suburb. So that was surprise number one.

Surprise number two jumped out at us as we toured the interior. See, we knew that Raymond is a marketer and a sculptor, and that Laird was a photographer. But we did not know that Laird took to the skies to get his shots, or that he had a whole room dedicated to aviation memorabilia in the home’s basement. This nugget of information spawned a new series for us, one that looks closely at individual design collections, and into the curious mind of the collector. Let’s see what Laird’s collection is all about.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Laird’s collection includes models from airline clients as well as the planes that he has flown or admires.
Designlines: Who are you and what is your profession?

Laird Kay: I’m an aviation photographer, and I shoot commercial and editorial work for airlines and airports around the globe.

Designlines: What do you collect, and what piqued your interest in these objects?

Laird: I collect aviation memorabilia – from onboard menus, amenity kits, airplane models, airline soft products. I even have three windows from a 747 (my favourite plane). These objects remind me of the romance of travel, and the magic of flight.

Gold Springbok pins given to passengers on South African Airways.
Designlines: When did this start and what set it off?

Laird: It started on my first flight to South Africa when I was seven years old. Those were the days that kids were given tours of the cockpit, and we each received a gold Springbok pin (the logo of South African Airways at the time).

Windows of a decommissioned Lufthansa 747, Laird’s favourite plane.
Designlines: Can you tell us a bit about when and where you procured some of these items?

Laird: Each object is from a flight I’ve taken, or an airline I’ve worked with. Each has its own story. For example, the “KAY” sign greeted me at Seattle airport by the Boeing driver, and the KLM coasters were collected when my sister and I flew by ourselves to see our grandparents in South Africa.

Lufthansa commemorative items from press trips and photoshoots.
Designlines: Why is this collection so important to you?

Laird: I was very lucky that my parents instilled the idea that travel, exploring the world, and learning about culture was important. Each object has its own story, memories and meaning associated with it.

Menus from many flights. Laird’s been known to ask for seconds of airplane food!
Designlines: How do you display this collection and keep the objects shipshape?

Laird: I display my models on a shelf and on the wall…they get regular dustings. The stuff that I don’t have on display I have organized into folders, so it’s easy to find them if I’m in need of a trip down memory lane. The pandemic has had me revisiting the collection frequently, to remember the experiences of travel. My amenity kit collection is in a suitcase for now, as I still haven’t figured out how to display them yet.

Laird’s many, many, many amenity kits.
Designlines: If our readers were interested in collecting such objects, where should they begin their search?

Laird: The good thing about plane geeks is that they collect so much, so it’s easy to find memorabilia online – of your favourite airline, favourite airplane. Ebay and similar sites are a treasure trove for great finds.

Designlines: Any advice to give our readers about how to authentically and properly collect?

Laird: Just collect what you love, and find items that have meaning. It’s not just the ‘things’ we collect, but also their stories.

Designlines: If you were to start a new collection, what would it be and why?

Laird: Well, I also collect wine, so I guess I’d just collect more wine. Before I was photographer, I spent 12 years designing wine cellars, so I was lucky to develop an appreciation for great wines.


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