October 31: The Aerial Gaze | Lab #4

Mishka Henner, Dutch Landscapes

Lab: Map Workshop: Share your work in progress and get some feedback! We’ll split the class into quarters, and each of you will have roughly ten minutes two do two things: present one prototype map-in-development for your final atlas, and solicit and receive feedback. How prototype-y are we talking? It can be rough, but your concept and execution plan should be clear, so your classmates will have something concrete to respond to.

What are the epistemologies and politics of aerial imagery?

James Bridle, Drone Shadow 002, Istanbul, 2012


Ryan Bishop, “Transparent Earth: The Autoscopy of Aerial Targeting and the Visual Geopolitics of the Underground” In Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Forensic Architecture, Sternberg Press, 2015): 580-90; Alexander Burgess, “Shift Command Three,” Photomediations Machine; Gabriele Colombo, Paolo Ciuccarelli, and Michele Mauri, “Visual Geolocations: Repurposing Online Data to Design Alternative Views,” Big Data & Society (2017); Robin Kelsey, “Reverse Shot: Earthrise and Blue Marble in the American Imagination,” New Geographies 4: Scales of the Earth (Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2011): 10-16; Mei-Po Kwan, “Feminist Visualization: Re-envisioning GIS as a Method in Feminist Geographic Research,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94:2 (2002): 645-61; Geoff Manaugh, “Grid Corrections,” BldgBlog (December 11, 2015); Robinson Meyer, “A New and Stunning Way to See the Whole Earth,” The Atlantic (January 26, 2016); Robinson Meyer, “Google Remakes the Satellite Business, By Leaving It,” The Atlantic (February 7, 2017); *Trevor Paglen, “Some Sketches on Vertical Geographies,” e-flux (October 5, 2016); Lisa Parks, “Digging into Google Earth: An Analysis of ‘Crisis in Darfur,’” Geoforum 40:4 (2009): 535-45; Lisa Parks, “Mapping Orbit: Toward a Vertical Public Space,” in Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, and Rachel Moore, eds., Public Space, Media Space (Palgrave, 2013): 61-87; Lisa Parks and James Schwoch, Eds., Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries, and Cultures (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012); Marianna Pavlovskaya & Kevin St. Martin, “Feminism and Geographic Information Systems: From a Missing Object to a Mapping Subject,” Geography Compass 1:3 (2007): 583-606; John Pickles, Cyber-Empires and the New Cultural Politics of Digital Spaces” in A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping and the Geo-Coded World (New York: Routledge, 2004): 145-75; Aaron Rothman, with Mishka Henner, Daniel Leivick & Clement Valla, “Beyond Google Earth,” Places (May 2015); Thomas Stubblefield, “In Pursuit of Other Networks: Drone Art and Accelerationist Aesthetics” in Lisa Parks and Caren Kaplan, eds., Life in the Age of Drone Warfare (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017); 195-219; Genevieve Yue, “Errant Pixels: The Sight Specificity of Satellite,” ASAP/Journal 2:3 (September 2017): 677-708.


4 Replies

  • “We should be wary of … reducing the map to a single narrative and giving it a single history” (Pickles, 2004, p.89). Pickles’ quote resonated with me since I have been thinking throughout the course that some accounts of “Western” mapping practices appear “too neat” or too uniform. By portraying all maps spanning an enormous geographical area and historical timeframe as a coherent, homogenous, problematic set of practices, what alternative “Western” mapping practices and ontologies might we miss out on? What could alternative histories of mapping offer us?

    “This drive to locate, to coordinate, however revelatory and even emancipatory it can be, also has its price. It seems as though in the end, maps – the successful ones, the ones that show us where we are and get us from here to there – risk offering only two alternatives. They let us see too much and hence blind us to what we cannot see, imposing a quiet tyranny of orientation that erases the possibility of disoriented discovery, or they lose sight of all the other things that we ought to see. They omit, according to their conventions, those invisible lines of people, places, and networks that create the most common spaces we live in today” (Kurgan, 2012, p.16-17). Kurgan’s quote speaks to me on a more personal level, addressing one of the fundamental problems I’ve been thinking about throughout my project. When are maps an appropriate tool to convey a point and when aren’t they? When should we avoid mapping something? What kinds of maps could we create that fall outside of what Pickles calls a “single narrative” and that would enable us to map something without being trapped by the “two alternatives” proposed by Kurgan? And more importantly, how far can we stretch the definition of what constitutes a map? At what point does a map stop being a map?

  • Excellent questions, Marike. Just as we were concerned a few weeks ago that we might be essentializing indigenous maps, we should also ask if we might be painting all Western maps with the same broad brush.

    And yes, isn’t that Kurgan quote striking? We’ll talk about this tomorrow 🙂

  • The maps discussed in ‘Seeing the world through Google’s eyes’ are mostly motivated by investigative reporting. Yet, the article highlights artistic choices through the way these maps are sourced or represented. Clement Valla’s Postcards from Google Earth, 2010 are almost surrealist and draw our attention to the way seamlessness is constructed in maps by structuring its edges in a certain manner. One can draw similarities between photographic indexing of satellite images and the way we make mental models of our dreams, the way we tend to blur their edge conditions. They reminded me of Erik Johansson’s work with landscapes. This absurd quality also comes across in the bizarre tiger-in-the-parking-lot situation and what that would mean when these images are archived and perhaps used for archeological purposes.

    Most of these maps are also created/curated/assembled with an agenda informed by previous investigation that may have not been ‘map’ related. James Bridle calls this ‘directed human research’ i.e. knowing what one is looking for. I wonder what methods can be employed while conducting this kind of research with satellite maps, so as to prevent fallacies like confirmation bias. In spite of the title, the piece also talks a lot about non-google satellite imagery and non-authoritarian crowdsourced data. This makes me wonder if there may be a need for more spectral and complex definitions of ‘crowdsourced data’, especially when the base technology is setup to be owned and controlled by large funding.

    Overall, I think for me, this reading raised a lot of tangential questions about what ‘gaze’ means in all these different contexts (technological, psychological etc.) and the unpredictable, diverse places that it can emanate from.

  • Thanks, Sur, for drawing attention to these important issues – the constructedness of the image and the politics of the gaze!

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