The Fly On The Wall Always Gets The Best View:
Drone Aesthetics In A Time Before Drones

by Brooks Riley

Something odd happens when I look at the elder Pieter Bruegel’s paintings: I experience a jolt of vertigo, as though I’d stepped out on a ledge somewhere—not too high up, but high enough to initiate a physical reaction more like titillation than terror. I didn’t notice this right away: For a long time, I was too busy taking in all the business going on in those paintings: the crowds, the tussles and bustle of the marketplace, the hawkers, the wagons, the houses, the animals, and in some of his works a topography rather alien to his own very flat province of North Brabant in the Netherlands. A master of ‘everything everywhere all at once,’ Bruegel knew how to crowd a wooden panel.

In The Fight between Carnival and Lent, faced with a multitude of finely-rendered characters alive with attitude, it’s easy to be distracted from the shot itself—its acute angle, its distance from the action, its extended scope and high horizon achieved through elevation. This is a classic content-over-form dialectic that faces every viewer looking at a painting. What am I seeing? What am I supposed to see? Where am I seeing from? 

In this case ‘where am I seeing from’ has everything to do with ‘what am I seeing’’: It’s the high oblique angle that enables the viewer to take in all those individuals spread out over the market square. (An AI command to make each character look up at the painter, might force the viewer to think about where Bruegel is situated as he paints, even if he’s up there only in his imagination. It’s like the fourth wall: you’re unaware of it until a character turns and speaks to you directly.)

A cinematographer would recognize this as a crane shot, or its replacement, the drone shot. This crane or drone doesn’t move. It defines the POV (point of view) of the painter, and shows how far his perspective can reach and how much he can cram into the in-between, that 2D surface which expands vertically with every higher angle of his POV, as in this crane shot from Gone with the Wind. Read more »

Travels with the Pasha (On Memorial Day in America)

by Leanne Ogasawara


The year was 1683. And the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Kara Mustafa Pasha, was leading one of the most organized war machines the world had ever seen, westward– toward Vienna. We know that his campaign would end in failure. The Pasha himself held ultimately responsible, he would be made to suffer the punishment of death by strangulation. The skin of his head peeled off and stuffed with straw, this gruesome “head” was then delivered to the Sultan back in Constantinople in a velvet bag.

Make sure you tie the knot right, he reportedly said with great bravado to his executioners as they prepared to tie the silken cord around his neck.

Only imagine how optimistic he must have been months earlier as he led his powerful army toward the city known to the Ottomans as the “Golden Apple.” Before the battle, Kara Mustafa had sent an official demand for surrender of the city. It was pure formality– as both sides knew this was to be a fight to the finish.

The Ottomans, for their part, had already set up camp and began digging.


The walls of Vienna were famous back then. Built during the 13th century using ransom money from the high-profile kidnapping of King Richard the Lionhearted (who had made the mistake of getting captured near Vienna whilst traveling home from the Holy Land), these walls had proved an impossible challenge the last time the Ottomans had come to town, in 1529. That was under Suleiman the Magnificent. And it wasn’t just the walls that challenged the invading army; for surrounding the walls were massive fortifications –including projecting bastions, ravelins, and ramparts. The entire city was then further fortified by wide artificial slopes (the glacis). That is why the best chance the Ottomans had was to dig under the bastions and detonate explosives to bring the fortifications down. Read more »

Under the sealed sky: Drones

By Maniza Naqvi

Warrior_01sThe first time I saw an unmanned drone aircraft was in Karachi when I sat directly under one trying to compose myself into a pose of cool collectedness despite the heat. That day in June 1998 I had gone to get my photograph taken professionally for the promotion of my first novel Mass Transit. As I seem to recall—there were several of them hanging from the ceiling all over the photographer’s house. These oversized toy gliders–above my head—rocked gently in the artificial breeze created by the air conditioning unit. I asked if assembling toy gliders were his hobby—. I was told they were neither. In fact they were remote control flying cameras. “They take pictures for the military” My picture taker told me. “Pictures over the Arabian sea—Pictures in Tharparkar near the border with Rajasthan—he grinned and continued peering at me through the lens of his camera. “Those pictures are taken with a very special type of a lens. Taking photographs of people like you, now that’s the hobby”. “Say no more” said I.

The sun seared the air to sweltering outside—but air conditioning inside, kept the photographer’s studio mildly cool. He was a civil aviation engineer. He did photo essays and fashion layouts for news magazines in the country as he had said as a hobby. While I arranged myself on the chair, brushed my hair and applied some lipstick, he adjusted the lighting and the backdrop. The power went out just as we were getting started. No matter—it would only be gone for half hour at the most. The room was getting hot. The pure cotton shift that I had on was beginning to cling—beads of sweat were beginning to trickle down my arms. So while we waited he pulled up the blinds on the windows and opened the shutters to let in air and the hot light from outside and asked me if I’d like something cool to drink or tea. I opted for a coke with ice. Ice would be so good. He left the room. The sea breeze caused the drones above my head to sway, various parts, probably the wings made a creaking sound. I looked up nervously—hoping that the strings holding them up were strong enough. When he returned with the drinks I fished out one of the ice cubes from my glass and rubbed it up and down my arm.

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