The view from above. Aerial imagery is a distinct form, one that shapes our understanding of place.
The earliest successful aerial imagery was made via hot air balloons and kites. And soon thereafter, pigeons.1 Reconnaissance (military and non-military) surveys of the land are often aerial, used in contexts including, war, mapping, city planning, environmental planning, surveillance and energy. Hot Air Balloon : Plane : Kite : Drone.
In contemporary media, climate related imagery is dominated by flyover footage. One remarkable application of this is Nasa’s Operation IceBridge. Operation IceBridge obtains imagery of the Earth’s polar regions directly affected by climate change. Operation IceBridge monitors thickness of sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets, collecting data in an effort to make predictions about future conditions in these fragile ecosystems.2 The images produced are striking and easy to romanticize.
The scale of aerial imagery allows for the depiction of drastic change, but this is experienced at an extreme distance. This withdrawal from the physical space where climate change occurs minimizes our engagement with the specificity of place.
The aerial atmosphere antagonism. Counter to the distancing effect aerial imagery produces, dictionary definitions for “aerial” suggest not the view froman aerial perspective, but instead an idea of within. In these instances the body is enveloped, surrounded, positioned within the aerial: “A creature or spirit of the air; an aerial being,” “Senses relating to the air or atmosphere,” “Dwelling, flying, or moving in the air...”3The focus is on the aerial environment itself, and the tangible experience of this, as opposed to an abstracted point of view that the aerial stage offers. With intention, this emphasis on a surrounding physicality can be embodied on the ground. In the excessive drought. Amidst the relentless flood. Within the fatal fire.
“Ethereal, insubstantial, immaterial; (also) unreal, imaginary; fanciful, other-worldly,” and, “In the classical theory of the elements: governed by or associated with the air; (hence) volatile, delicate.”4
The aerial is volatile. It is delicate. A harsh wind and a peaceful breeze.
Defined by k. Flint
1 Olivia B. Waxman, ‘See the History of Aerial Photography in Pictures,’ Time 31 May 2018, time.com/longform/aerial-photography-drones-history/
2 Zell, Holly. “IceBridge Mission Overview.” NASA, NASA, 22 June 2015, www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge/mission/index.html.
3 "aerial, n.1." OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/11125. Accessed March 2019.
Index image: k. Flint Two Walls on the Far Playa, 2017 photo. Chris Taylor, Land Arts of the American West.
Background image: Two Rectangular Icebergs Spotted on a NASA IceBridge flight during an aerial survey of polar ice over the northern Antarctic Peninsula, Oct. 16, 2018. See https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge/image-gallery/index.html