Lifestyle & Belief

Vincent van Drone: They're not just killing machines anymore


A drone flies during a training session.



It's not your average Instagram caption:

A strike on a mud-built house in Miranshah or the nearby village of Chashma, at 3am, killing 4-7 people. According to local resident Bashir Dawar, 'The bodies were badly damaged and beyond recognition.' #drone #drones #pakistan

The photo-sharing app is typically associated with food porn and cat memes, but British artist James Bridle is turning Instagram pictures into snapshots of political activism.

Bridle is one of several artists using the secret, modern face of warfare to create political art. Some are purely internet based while others produce more grandiose installations, but all have a similar mission: to raise awareness about the power of drones through art.

Stephen Whisler, a visual artist from California, has long been fascinated by clandestine surveillance and before creating drone art he produced images of watchtowers. Drones are “the new watchtowers of the state,” Whisler told GlobalPost, “a symbol of the means that the state and the patriarchy will go to project power.”

Stephen Whisler. "Blue Drones in the Morning" (2013)

Whisler's drone art “finds a way to speak about the surveillance state that seems to be creeping upon us.” Much like watchtowers, drones are “oddly sinister ... with darkened windows, you cannot see who is piloting them. 

Stephen Whisler. "Blue Predator" (2012)

Earlier this year, Whisler made noise after affixing his own roadside signs on California's highways that read “SPEED ENFORCED BY DRONES.” 

Stephen Whisler

Bridle says his art is similarly interested in exposing the connection between secret surveillance, power projection and new technology through installations.

“It's very strange that these days we have no idea of the battlefields on which war is being fought,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “But at the same time we've built technology that allows us to see the whole world on your phone. I wanted to use these technologies to make visible the contemporary battlefields, these drone strikes.”

Started in late 2012, Bridle's project — known as Dronestagram — takes Google Earth images of the landscape that the high-tech killing machines see just before an attack and posts them, along with captions describing the location's specific attack, across Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram.

Dronestagram is just one drone-related project Bridle has developed. Since February 2012, Bridle and Einar Sneve Martinussen, a Norwegian visual artist, have replicated drone's shadows on the sidewalks of major cities around the world.

James Bridle and STML via Flickr

For Bridle, both Dronestagram and the drone shadows are meant to push the debate on drones and reveal the connections between technology and warfare. “We use military technologies like GPS and Kinect for work and play; they continue to be used militarily to maim and kill, ever further away and ever less visible,” Bridle said in an interview with GlobalPost.

James Bridle and STML via Flickr

Eric Dupin, the CEO of the website, which plans to change its name to avoid confusion with Bridle's projects, approaches drones with a friendlier stance, inviting commercial drone owners to post their own aerial photographs.

The hobbyist website has users share each other's breathtaking images in order to “build a world map of Earth with a bird's eye view,” according to Dupin. Despite covering a controversial subject, the site remains politically neutral giving visitors nine menu choices for drone pictures from “cityscape” to “sports.”

Looka via

“I thought that it would be cool to build a unique worldwide database and map of aerial drone photography,” Dupin said. “[There was] no particular intention.” Drones "aren't only death machines, but may help in several ways, including saving lifes, or more simply ... make great pictures."

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