An illustration (in Mapping England by Simon Foxell) of a map by Thomas Baldwin from his book Airopaidia. It’s taken from his flight in Lunardi’s balloon from Chester castle over Cheshire and Lancashire, and is said to be the first published aerial view, and the first account of aerial navigation. This aerial, embodied, weather shrouded view of the world is the kind of partial and situated view that I’ve been thinking about. Views that speak of the detail of an experience rather than the over view of power.
In a recent talk at Lancaster University Dr Leon Gurevitch described the changing meaning of images of the globe, from the famous photograph of the earth from space referred to as ‘the blue marble‘ in which weather systems and a lack of visible borders enabled people to think of the earth as a whole, fragile, interrelated organism, and influenced the whole earth movement and James Lovelock. Gurevitch contrasted these views of the globe with google earth in which all the weather has been stripped away and the national borders drawn in.
This was useful in my own ongoing research and attempt to re-claim an aerial perspective that is not panopticon. A sense of the aerial view as something that can mediate a closer relationship between the individual, specific locations and connections to the global. This research has included finding examples of what I call emobodied views from above, descriptions of flight by Saint Exupery, from women spitfire pilots of WWII, Helen Sharman the first British Astronaut, Astro_Soichi who has posted his own photographs from space on Twitter, often with a very specific individual perspective (and has discusssed with and responded to comments via twitter), my own experiences of flight in light aircraft, balloons and jet planes, WWII silk escape maps, the current air pilots handbook description of an emergency landing, and the same text from a WWII pilots handbook, pilots accounts of emergency landings read at the RAF museum in Hendon, artists like Simon Faithfull and Martin John Callanan, animated films like pixar’s ‘UP‘ and Studio Ghibli’s ‘Porco Rosso‘ and observations of places in google in which the earth is permenantly covered in cloud in a reversal of the clear sight of the seemingly timeless, weatherless satellite imagery.
These partial and situated views that allow a greater connection to the ground rather than a removal are also seen in the work of Per Sandstrum at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science in Umea in his work with the indigenous Sami people using GPS to track their Reindeer herds, and the work of the Arctic Perspective Initiative in Nunavuc, northern Canada. Both projects work closely with indigenous populations to develope technologies such as aerial views, GPS and live data links to mediate and enable relationships between people and the land within traditional nomadic or migrationary journeys. These journeys are tied closely to the ground and are spaces in which those technologies are being used to enable further relationships rather than disconnections.
These uses of mapping and viewing technologies could be articulated in contrast to traditional maps as seen in the Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library. Subtitled ‘Power, Propaganda and Art’ the exhibition and its printed guide describe how maps have been used to impress, intimidate, over-awe and rule, to convey power, status, dominance and military triumph, to associate the owners with God and eternity, to reflect intellectual accomplishment, wealth and extensive travel, as propaganda, advertising, and strategic planning, and to make an impression through education and indoctrination. And although they often express the intricate local knowledge of the map maker they were often made for the uses of those in power. An exhibition of vernacular maps, of hastily drawn maps used to show the way from here to there, would have been a good counter point to this exhibition.