Views from above, balloons, planes, art

Views from above, balloons, planes, art

Dziga Vertov, Man_with_a_Movie_Camera_poster
Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera, poster


The historian serving the King of France, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier enjoyed ballooning and began to experiment with a mix of hydrogen and hot-air he discovered posthumously that hydrogen gas is explosive. He was the first person to die in a balloon.

From the telescope (Galileo and the Venetian senate) to the use of balloons early in the Civil War for aerial reconnaissance,warfare has been a driving force of technological innovation. In June 1861 at the Columbia Armoury in Washington a Mr Lowe demonstrated his balloon with the help of the Magnetic Telegraph Company. The tethered balloon ascended 150 metres and the world’s first telegraphic transmission from the air was relayed through wires running along the tether lines to both the War Department and the White House. The Balloon Corps were formed within the Topographical Engineers.

American Civil War, Balloon Company
Inflation of the balloon ‘Intrepid’ to reconnoitre the Battle of Fair Oaks; Lowe, not visible in this image, is standing to the right of the balloon.

Both Union and Confederate forces tried using unmanned balloons loaded with explosives and they were launched in hope that they would cause casualties but controlling them was impossible and the idea was soon abandoned.

In the Second World War Japanese Balloon Bombs or ‘Fugos’ were supposed to set fire to the West Coast of the USA. The Japanese built 15,000 of them but only launched 9,300 made of mulberry paper a sphere about 100 ft. in diameter with a volume of 19,000 cubic ft. of Hydrogen lifting capacity 800 lbs at sea-level and 400 lbs at 32,000 ft.

Armament: five 5 or 12 kg. Thermite bombs and one 15 kg High Explosive, released from Japan in winter when the jet stream is strongest (the Japanese discovered this phenomena). Ideally they flew at altitude (20,000 to 40,000 ft.) travelled across the Pacific at around 200 mph At night they would collect dew and become heavy. Below a set height the altimeter would cause a set of charges to release sand bag ballast, the balloon would rise again. This continued till all the sand bags were gone. The last ballast was the armament. After all the ballast was gone a picric acid block blew up destroying the gondola. A fuse was lit that was connected to a charge on the balloon itself. The hydrogen and air mixture burned the balloon envelope up as a large orange fireball.

The only casualties were a woman and five children in Bly, Oregon on a church picnic, who found one which exploded, killing them all. One landed on a power line at Cold Creek, Washington State triggering the first SCRAM in history, taking down the first reactor used to make plutonium. SCRAM stands for Safety Control Rod Ax Man. In the early days of nuclear power, boron moderator rods were raised and lowered on ropes. In the event of a runaway chain reaction, a man with an axe would chop the rope and drop the rods into the nuclear pile to stop the reaction.



In 1908, the U.S. Army Signal Corps advertised for a two-seat observation aircraft, easily assembled and disassembled, with sufficient fuel for 200 km (125 mi); and a speed of at least 64 kph (40 mph) in still air. The purchase price was around $25,000 The Wright brothers constructed a two-place, wire-braced biplane with a 30-40 horsepower maiden flight at Fort Myer, Virginia, on September 3, 1908.

Many successful test flights until September 17, at 5:14 p.m., Orville took off with Lt. Thomas Selfridge, the Army’s observer, as his passenger. The plane had circled the field four and a half times when a propeller blade split it crashed to earth. Orville broken bones including a broken hip and severe shock, but Selfridge was killed fractured skull, the first person to die in a powered aeroplane accident. In 1909, Wright’s Military Flyer became the world’s first military plane.

1909_Wright Military Flyer
Orville Wright with Military Flyer, 1909, Fort Myer

One things leads to another through cumulative bricolage.

Bombing Vietnam, 1966


In 1931, when the demand for aerial views had increased enough that Grand Canyon Airlines began regular flights. When construction began on Hoover Dam business increased substantially. Now each year nearly a million people view the Canyon from the air from the planes and helicopters.

Aborigines from the beginning as far as we know created aerial landscapes depicting their country, songlines, sacred places, watering holes and totems. “The relationship between painting and culture is that it allows people to get a chapter of a particular part of the story. If you put all these paintings together you’d have one big mud map where you could then trace and put a map over the country, and if you actually have a look at an aerial photograph along with the paintings of these particular sites, you get such a surprise to see how uncanny they are, so alike the country and the images, except we will have certain iconographies in bits which were our storylines you know.” Malcolm Jagamarra.


The movies

Man with a Movie Camera, still from film
Man with a Movie Camera, still from film

Dziga Vertov in ‘Man with the Movie Camera’ (1929) made (with his wife) an amazingly innovative documentary of life in Russia. Vertov thought film would become the universal language binding all nations, ethnicities, and languages. The camera would become “a cinema-eye more perfect than the human eye for exploring the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.” He wanted film as film without a script, set, actors or titles (it was his last silent movie). ‘In one crescendo of this visual symphony, an aerial shot of a city plaza shows in fast motion the movement of thousands of pedestrians, streetcars, bicycles, automobiles, and horse-drawn carts. Extraordinarily, despite the speed and intensity of modern circulation, there are no collisions. Against all odds, the city is a coordinated and functioning organism.’





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