In just a few minutes I was hooked. . . The photos and video were stunning. By assuming unusual vantage points, the drone allowed me to “see” so much more of my surroundings than usual.
[The view] would have otherwise been impossible without the use of a private plane, helicopter, or balloon. With any of those vehicles, I would have needed a telephoto lens, and all of them would have made an unacceptable commotion on the beach. What’s more, I would not have been in the photos! — Martha Stewart
Purveyor of all things "Good", Martha Stewart has added her two color-coded cents to the debate on drones in a nearly gleeful op-ed for TIME magazine. Titled "Why I Love My Drone", Stewart gushes about her new "useful tool" and marvels at how large-scale planning projects like Chateau de Versailles and the Great Wall of China were accomplished without such imaging technology. Seeing aerial views of her private farm, she's tickled by its resemblance to her Peter Rabbit-themed Easter cakes.
Stewart's approach to drone photography is craftily optimistic, and while she recognizes the grave implications of militarized drone technology, she's not going to wrinkle her dinner napkin wringing her hands over it. But Stewart's adoption of the drone is a strong sign of the technology's mainstream commercial appeal. Professional photographers, filmmakers, real estate developers and architects have embraced the drone's utility for affording new, choreographed views (even if the law hasn't). The drone's-eye-view bridges the experiential gap that existed between what puny, flightless humans can see on the ground and what omnipresent Google Maps' satellite shows us from above.
Ethical questions behind the militaristic and commercial use of drones, such as Amazon's proposed drone-delivery service, characterize drones as harbingers of a brave new capitalist dystopia, beating out competitors by overnighting them their paper towel deliveries. But drone photography has already established itself as its own thing, both as a tool to extend the reach of current professional photographers, and as its own artistic genre. It has its own social network, Dronestagram, which just celebrated its one year anniversary by hosting a photo contest with National Geographic. These photos mostly indulge humanity's obsession with flight: condors so close you can count the feathers; a hang glider's view of a picturesque Austrian village.
But as a new technology becomes more ingrained in a given art form, the gaze inevitably turns back onto that technology. Cue the "Drone Selfies", a series of drone self-portraits by the art group IOCOSE. Part of their "In Times of Peace" concept project, exploring "the life of a drone after war and terror", their "Drone Selfies" show one drone gazing (?) at itself in mirrors — in a snowboard shop; a bathroom; the plausible bedroom of a teenage girl.
For me, these images provoked a very strange feeling. Because the drone itself is out of frame for these selfies, the reflection matches the viewer's perspective, as if they were the one looking into the mirror. The perspectival trick of putting drone and human together makes it impossible not to identify with the drone, triggering a feedback loop of associations. The drone gets personified according to its surroundings, and the viewer begins to embody the drone, floating in the picture. Why was this drone shopping for snowboards? Do I need a snowboard? The same thing happens when I scrolled through Google's Street View cameras' selfies, inadvertently taken for Google's Art Project. Suddenly I imagined that I was wearing a long silver gown.
This is not a new trick, and it's common in advertising photography. It also makes it difficult not to relate to the drone, at least a tiny bit.
See below a video fly-over of Downtown Los Angeles, filmed by a lightweight remote controlled quad-copter and camera system.