Burj Dubai, Dubai
By now, the novelty of the aerial view has long warn off (remember when Google Earth blew all of our minds?). Detailed images of our surroundings, captured by satellites orbiting out of sight, are all but commonplace these days. And though few of us have had the privilege of contemplating a place from such a lofty position, we have come to accept these abstract digital images as among the most accurate depictions of our environment.
But with this privileged distance, this ability to think we see all the pieces of the terrestrial puzzle, comes an equally great psychological distance from any real sense of place. Irish photographer David Thomas Smith ponders what has been lost since we have begun conflating satellite imagery with reality. In his Anthropocene series, Smith takes aerial landscapes of industrial sites and sites of voracious development and rearranges them into kaleidoscopic patterns. Though we’ve seen this trick before, Smith’s images are individual in their deliberate evocation of Persian rugs. As Alison Zavos wrote on Featureshoot, “Thousands of seemingly insignificant coded pieces of information are sewn together like knots in a rug to reveal a grander spectacle.”
The rationale behind Smith’s work derives in part from the traditional craft of Afghani rug weavers, who notably used textiles to record and comprehend their experiences of a turbulent, war-torn homeland in more vivid, literal imagery. In a way, Smith’s psychedelic tableaus remove the viewer from reality by distorting satellite photos into abstract, illegible patterns. But at the same time, Smith’s synthetic multiplication of sites like Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, Dubai, and Beijing bring attention to the frightening pace of development that often escapes us today.