Seeing From Above, edited by Mark Dorrian and Frédéric Pousin is reviewed by Simon Ferdinand in the latest issue of Visual Studies. The book, published by IB Tauris in 2013, is the outcome of a research project jointly funded by the British Academy and CNRS.
Ferdinand writes: “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. Each of the contributions, which were originally delivered in thecontext of a conference and other seminars held at the universities of Edinburgh and Paris, unpacks one figure or moment in a long cultural history of the aerial view.
The collection ranges between its many discrete episodes without submitting them to any one constraining perspective, allowing each object to be thought on its own terms. Freed from the burden of theoretical generalisation, the readings teem with indelible detail and beautiful figures. One flick might yield a bizarre sketch of a tortoise flying over the bay of Venice, which Marina Warner holds to symbolise the roving graphic imagination of the sixteenth-century Danish polymath Melchior Lorck who made it, or a screamingly bold Malevich stage design, whose heights of abstraction and transcendence Christina Lodder presents as being infused by the ‘visual paradigm’ of aerial photography. The collection also reflects the diversity of the forms that have been used to imagine and represent the view from above, broaching not only cartography, aerial (including satellite) photography, the city prospect, relief model and internet mash-up but also the unexpected media of abstract painting, choreography, written accounts, cinema, piled rubble and photomontage.”