Unmanned Imaging of the Anthropocene



Publication Details

Burton, A. L. "Unmanned Imaging of the Anthropocene." Shifting Interfaces: An Anthology of Presence, Empathy, and Agency in 21st Century. Ed.H. Aldouby. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2020, 257-275.


In 1967 the NASA ATS-III weather satellite took the first complete colour photograph of the Earth. Adorning the cover of the inaugural issue of the Whole Earth Catalogue, the unmanned image has been credited as an icon of the 1970s environmental movements. Over the last five decades, however, a human-centric perspective has dominated photographic and cinematic representations of environmental issues. A recent proliferation of unmanned imaging technologies and a renewed counter-cultural imperative, has reawakened an ontological distinction between human and non-human points of view. Removing the human from behind the camera significantly alters the provenance and meaning of the image, non-human actors are foregrounded — such as the weather, objects, plants and animals — and there is a levelling of existence. Unmanned imaging technologies offer an unprecedented range of spatial encounters, from impossibly close to impossibly far, opening up new ways to experience the fragility of our ecosystems. This chapter explores the potential of unmanned photographic technologies such as drones, GoPros, and satellite imagery to assist a non-anthropocentric understanding of the environment and urgent ecological issues.

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