Whether floating above the city in a hot air balloon to fighting over the window seat on a transcontinental flight, evidence of our fascination with a bird’s eye view of the world is everywhere.
The ability to see the world below from heights as great as 30,000 feet and beyond eluded humanity until the invention of the airplane in the early 20th century. Long before air travel became affordable for nearly every income level, aerial photography elucidated the view of our world from the skies above us. From Above: Aerial Photography from the Center for Creative Photography, the Museum’s newest exhibition in partnership with Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, will delve into our fascination with and the artistry of aerial photographs.
Before we had the ability to photograph from such great heights, humans excelled in cartography, learning how to depict in two-dimensions the scope and shape of land and sea. The first aerial photographs were taken from hot air balloons and kites before progressing to airplanes. “The actual photographs of our world were wonderful, startling, even if they weren’t hugely different from the maps we’d used for centuries,” explains Rebecca Senf, Norton Family Curator of Photography at the Museum. “But it felt different somehow. We often view photographs as truth, as something we can trust.”
What we discovered was a natural relationship between flight and photography, the ways in which altitude can affect light and color along with a placid quality conferred by distance, even in photographs that captured scenes of war and destruction. We also saw the abstraction of our world into segmented shapes and geometry, an extreme version of the language of photography in which we normally deal.
“In viewing aerial photography as an art form, we are faced with a question,” says Senf. “We may be able to puzzle out the specifics of what we are seeing if we look long enough. But the question is, when is it okay to just let go and admire? When can we stop examining and just see?”
Drawn from the Center’s expansive collection, From Above examines the myriad ways that aerial photographers have explored this intriguing medium. Showcasing the works of more than 20 artists covering almost every subject area, it includes alpine photography of Bradford Washburn, military reconnaissance of Edward Steichen, survey photography of Albert Stevens, WWII-era photojournalism of W. Eugene Smith, and the art of William Garnett. The exhibition was inspired by and includes the work of Marilyn Bridges, acclaimed aerial photographer who uses the medium to study the ways in which humans have altered the surface of the earth.