The Aerial Photography Weapon.

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MEP 021      Paul Cook        Page         5/10/2007



Assignment Title:                The Aerial Photography Weapon


Select a key moment in the technological development of photographic image production and give evidence of how profoundly this development has affected contemporary visual culture.

Author:                                        Paul Cook

Deadline:                                08.05.2003



This essay will describe the key moment in the development of photographic image production when aerial photography was turned in to a weapon of war and will demonstrate how this has affected the meaning of images for today’s audiences. It will consider briefly, the origination of aerial photography, why it took nearly fifty years for the military to apply it’s potential and what effect the massive exploitation and technological developments of the weapon have had on it’s audiences over the past century. The essay will argue that no other military weapon has had such a wide ranging, and catastrophic effect on warfare or such a profound impact on contemporary visual culture and public opinion as the aerial photography weapon.

By the end of the First World War (WW1) more than ten million people had been killed. Over the preceding sixty years, the combined total killed in the Crimean War, The American Civil War, The Prussian Wars, The Boer War, The Russo-Japanese War and the Balkan War totaled just over two million.

This unprecedented toll of human lives (over 10 million killed) was mainly a result of the mass production of heavy artillery and rapid-firing weapons that were able to hit targets with previously unattainable accuracy. The reason for this accuracy was not so much the static nature of trench warfare but the increasing use of optical munitions, particularly the aerial reconnaissance photograph [Image.1]. Each military advantage resulted from whichever side saw the enemy first. As John Taylor says the science of sight had become one of the most notable features of the war [1]. So vital had this weapon become that by the end of WW1 the RAF (Royal Air Force) had increased it’s photographic staff from five in 1914 to over three thousand by September 1919. In the last ten months of the war, more than a quarter of a million aerial negatives were taken by the RAF over German territory, from which nearly six million prints were made for use by the Intelligence Staff. The insatiable demand for such quantities was a pre-indicator of the progression and development of this weapon to the round-the-clock surveillance employed today by Military Intelligence (MI) via the many orbiting satellites.

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The military audience for aerial images has existed since the first battle ever took place in pre-history. To every field commander, the most vital weapon always longed for, was the one that would obtain the knowledge of their enemy’s position and movements over the other side of the hill. This only became a realistic option after 1856 when a hot air balloon was combined with

the very earliest photographic equipment [note a] by the French author and artist Felix Tournachon, known as Nadar [note b]…who was.. talking to the French Military as early as the 1859 campaign in Italy…and at the ...

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