"Photograph in the Age of the Personal Drone"

Good interview with ArduCopter flier John Vigg in Vice Magazine's The Creators Project. Excerpt:

John Vigg thinks everyone should have a personal drone. Maybe you’d use yours to uphold national security, or maybe you’d have tacos delivered to your apartment. Whatever. 

While people have been strapping high-def cameras to their heads and helmets for years now, Vigg still thinks they’re missing the point. He’s going for a new aesthetic. In the search for this “new aesthetic,” Vigg has designed and programmed drones armed with cameras to fly over various areas that are otherwise unreachable by foot. 

His interest was piqued by a section of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. According to Google Maps, there was a housing development in the middle of this vast stretch of untouched land, when in fact trees were the only inhabitants of this remote area. “Google Earth made a mistake, and I wanted to get in there,” says Vigg.

In Vigg’s words, his drones help him “describe contemporary landscape and the changes in current aesthetics while investigating the production of space.” In his most recent work, Vigg pushes the limits of what photography can do with an eye toward traditional landscapes. In order to capture the precise images that he wanted (when conventional means of capturing aerial shots – like kites and balloons – weren’t cutting it) he made drones using the same high-tech equipment scientists are using in unmanned aerial vehicles.

“I’m looking to get the look of the drone. I want to use what everyone has access to. It’s about accepting what this technology is going to give us and looking at the aesthetics and the pleasing nature of that,” he says. In an age where Google Maps and Google Earth have become our preliminary peep show of physical experience, Vigg’s taking the concept a step further, venturing into territory where no Street View car has gone before. 

How did you get the idea to work with drones?

I came across several air bases [on Google Maps and Google Earth] that had drones on them, so I started making drawings of the drones. I needed an idea for more advanced aerial shots and here I’d already been investigating these top secret air bases. I’d had them on my brain for weeks. So I started researching how to produce my own. 

How did you build and program the drones?

I build my own frames because they hold the electronics I like. I source parts from all over the place. The bulk of it is from 3D Robotics. The programming is all open source. You literally click points on the Google Map to tell this thing where to fly. I use GoPro cameras. When I first started, it was with a GoPro 2. I was having trouble with the image resolution, but closer to the tail end is when the GoPro 3 came out. It offers much better image quality and can tether the drones to my iPhone, offering more maneuverability in the air. It helped a lot; it was really a saving grace. It took off so much technology from the drone itself. 

Read the rest here

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Comment by Jack Crossfire on June 21, 2013 at 5:42pm

Not sure if in the last 7 years the idea of clicking on a Google map has ever been as convenient as imagined.  There's storing the map in a cache, then driving to the field, hoping you stored the right part.  There's paying $70/month for a data plan limited to 3GB/month & paying for phones that now cost over $400, hoping there's coverage in the field.  There's also the limitation of 2500 queries/day for the Google API which didn't exist in 2006.  So the drone got cheaper while the infrastructure now is the barrier.

Comment by HeliStorm on June 21, 2013 at 9:18pm
I was born close to, and lived the first eight years of my life on the northern edge of the barrens. My Dad worked for one of the park systems related to them. He has told me tales of semi-indigent folk living in tents and shacks in makeshift towns in some of the deeper parts. I never liked the barrens as a kid. Too creepy. I was much happier when we moved to upstate NY along Lake Ontario.

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