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Seeing from above: The Aerial View in Visual Culture

Seeing from above: The Aerial View in Visual Culture

Edited by: Mark Dorrian, Frederic Pousin

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The view from above, or the 'bird's-eye' view, has become so ingrained in contemporary visual culture that it is now hard to imagine our world without it. It has risen to pre-eminence as a way of seeing, but important questions about its effects and meanings remain unexplored. More powerfully than any other visual modality, this image of 'everywhere' supports our idea of a world-view, yet it is one that continues to be transformed as technologies are invented and refined. This innovative volume, edited by Mark Dorrian and Frederic Pousin, offers an unprecedented range of discussions on the aerial view, covering topics from sixteenth-century Roman maps to the Luftwaffe's aerial survey of Warsaw to Google Earth. Underpinned by a cross-disciplinary approach that draws together diverse and previously isolated material, this volume examines the politics and poetics of the aerial view in relation to architecture, art, film, literature, photography and urbanism and explores its role in areas such as aesthetics and epistemology. Structured through a series of detailed case studies, this book builds into a cultural history of the aerial imagination.

Table of Contents

Mark Dorrian and Frédéric Pousin

Chapter 1
Intimate Communiqués: Melchior Lorck‘s Flying Tortoise
Marina Warner

Chapter 2
The meaning of Roman maps: Etienne Dupérac and Antonio Tempesta
Michael Bury

Chapter 3
Thomas Baldwin’s Airopaidia, or the Aerial View in Colour
Marie Thébaud-Sorger

Chapter 4
European Cities from a Bird’s-Eye View: the Case of Alfred Guesdon
Jean-Marc Besse

Chapter 5
Nadar’s Aerial View
Stephen Bann

Chapter 6
Transfiguring Reality: Suprematism and the Aerial view
Christina Lodder

Chapter 7
The Aerial View and Cinematism, 1898-1939
Teresa Castro

Chapter 8
‘The Domain of Rrose Sélavy’: Dust Breeding and Aerial Photography
David Hopkins

Chapter 9
The Aviator and The Photographer :  The Case of Walter Mittelholzer
Olivier Lugon

Chapter 10
From the Sky to the Ground – The Aerial View and the Ideal of the Vue Raisonnée: Aerial Photographs in Geography during the 1920s
Marie-Claire Robic

Chapter 11
The figure from above: on the obliqueness of the plan in urbanism and architecture
John Macarthur

Chapter 12
The City Seen from the Aeroplane: Distorted Reflections and Urban Futures
Nathalie Roseau

Chapter 13
Vectors of looking: Reflections on the Luftwaffe’s aerial survey of Warsaw, 1944
Ella Chmielewska

Chapter 14
The Aerial View in the Service of the ‘Grands Ensembles’
Frédéric Pousin

Chapter 15
Robert Smithson and Aerial Art
Gilles Tiberghien

Chapter 16
On Google Earth
Mark Dorrian

Author Info

Mark Dorrian holds the Forbes Chair in Architecture at the University of Edinburgh and is Co-Director of the art, architecture and urbanism atelier Metis.


‘Flying became possible because it was imagined. This is what a history of seeing from above discloses: we visualised angelic mobility before we could design it. In this fascinating collection the open eye of Google Earth retains at its vanishing point a turbulent history of self-elevation: new suburbs far below look like ancient cities – or are they bomb sites? Birds, mountains and clouds serve as armatures for cameras. An extraordinarily timely survey of earth from the sky, full of virtuosic new insights, ethical as well as aesthetic implications, and not without its share of vertigo.’
Paul Carter, author and artist

‘In order to move deeper into the history of our modernity, one has to move upward. But our gaze was not all that went with us into the altitudes; it was joined by cameras, leaflets, bombs, and computers, not to mention our poetic, philosophical and existential contemplations. This book brings out aeriality’s multiple dimensions with such force that by the end one feels that – despite our imprisonment to gravity – we really live not on the earth, but at the bottom-most layer of a vast exospherical mirror filled with everything that makes us human, from our highest ideals to our basest thoughts and ambitions.’
Mark Jarzombek, Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, MIT

‘In the last decades of the twentieth century, aerial and satellite photography pervaded our ways of seeing, but also our means of representing and managing the terrestrial surface.  Paradoxically, until now there has been little research investigating the drives and consequences of such a change.  Seeing From Above brings an innovative perspective to the history of art, architecture, and landscape and sheds new light on the construction of images and their uses.  This remarkable collection of richly-illustrated essays – which encompasses the analysis of etchings, of early cinematography, of views from balloons, and of Google Earth – will become a landmark for any scholar interested in the field of visual culture.’
Vincent Piveteau, Director, École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage, Versailles

‘This uplifting collection of essays accounts comprehensively and for the first time for one of the most important reorientations in the history of perception and the senses, the capacity to see the world from above. The volume gives historical reach to the idea of the aerial, tracking it back before the era of flight to earlier arguments and speculations. Encompassing ballooning, architecture, photography, painting, cartography, urban planning, military history and internet imaging, Seeing From Above assembles a dizzyingly delicious panorama of ideas and arguments. In its mapping of what has become our defining world picture, this is truly explication in excelsis.’
Steven Connor, Grace 2 Professor of English, University of Cambridge

‘A collection of 16 extraordinarily rich essays by specialist authors, Seeing from Above explores the rhetorical complexity, cultural significance and various instrumentalities of aerial visuality as it has spread and ramified throughout visual culture at large… Freed from the burden of theoretical generalisation, the readings teem with indelible detail and beautiful figures… the scholarship is constantly impressive…as such the collection stands as an exciting resource, whose value should be ratified by future research.’
Simon Ferdinand, Visual Studies

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781780764610
Publication Date: 29 Sep 2013
Number of Pages: 320
Height: 234
Width: 156
Illustrations: 85 bw integrated

ISBN: 9781780764603
Publication Date: 29 Sep 2013
Number of Pages: 320
Height: 234
Width: 156
Illustrations: 85 bw integrated

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