What does drone photography tell us about our society? These aerial photographs – which I’ve started to see more and more unnecessary versions of – show a dis-located view of their subject. They are a distortion of perspective and position that separates subjective observation from the observed object. In this sense, drone photography explicitly divides a subjective look from looking. But more importantly, what it seems these photographs express is how repetitive photography can become. No sooner has a new technology, one that is relatively accessible, emerged onto the market then it is entirely taken up, replicated, duplicated and repeated incessantly. Of course we’ve seen this before with HDR, GoPro PoV, etc. so it is hardly surprising that those uninspiring and inevitably unoriginal drone images should quickly make an appearance into the world image bank. (And no, I’m not linking to any here, but you know who you are because we certainly know exactly who you are.)
I do think the interesting point is how very few people who fly drones, are actually able to produce anything different from anyone else. Creativity, once again, becomes a slave to technology. With little or no thought of how to do something interesting with this technology, drone pilot photographers hover around us doing the same things they all do over and over again. Of course there is inevitably one exception and that is Aydın Büyüktaş, who is making some really interesting almost hybrid drone work. What his images reveal are questions about viewpoint and position, perhaps even about how the world is actually not visually coherent.
Parallax occurs when there is a change to our observational position – this has the effect of creating a different way of looking at an observed object. We can conclude from this, that the same object can be seen entirely differently from different points of view. However, a constant shifting of perspective might suggest there is a discernable and irreconcilable gap between how things appear to be and the many different and distinct positions we might view them from.
The challenge for all photography is not to simply re-produce images of the world – from the ground or indeed now, from the sky – instead we should also be asking the question as to how images are even possible. And no, this is not a question that can be answered with a response that refers to technology. This is a question that raises concerns over how much we notice about images, about what they do, how they function and of course importantly the view that every perspective we have is only ever an incomplete or partial one.
When photographs are produced in vast numbers and appear to have little or no distinguishing features from each other are we not dealing with anything more than visual commodities? The reason we appear to want to produce more and more photographs is not to meet a need; it is precisely to address a fetish, a desire which is in excess of the values of production or indeed the value of exchange. It appears that one of the functions of producing so many images is to create a sense of normality. I suggest, though, it is not what the images show us that creates a ‘false consciousness,’ instead it is the very act of repetition, of making images in the knowledge that these images, or at least ones very similar, have already been made before. The process itself is the dogma, not what is shown on the images. By making more of the same images we fail to confront the very terms that make images possible. And as we attempt to quite literally capture the visual world we do, inevitably, lose sight of what is actually escaping our understanding.
We can instantly recognise photographs taken with a drone, there is no illusion within them. This, of course, means there is also no truth to them, since once your remove the illusion you also remove the chance of understanding the truth. Drone images contain no polarity; they don’t adequately trick or deceive.