ISSUE TEN | SPRING 2018
First Flight is a collection of stills found and edited from amateur drone footage found online. The title comes from the initial YouTube search term I used to find inaugural flights of new drones.
Like the previous edition, volume five of Photo Box—Nat. Brut’s recurring feature of found images—focuses on a group of still images selected from found videos. This edition of Photo Box draws from Dawn Kim’s project, “First Flight.” An artist and curator, Kim has cultivated bodies of work examining found images in our contemporary Internet-connected society, with a particular interest in those that have been generated in accidental ways or for functional purposes. For Photo Box, Kim’s images were made possible by the proliferation of amateur drone ownership.
The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that “hobbyist” drone ownership will increase from 1 million vehicles in 2016 to more than 3.5 million by 2021 in the US alone. They are so popular and potentially destructive that the National Park System has banned them from most national parks. Signs forbidding drones are de rigueur at outdoor sporting stadiums and any trailhead that lead to a “view.” Aerial footage from drones has become a recognizable and desired part of commercial productions from sports and news broadcasts to documentary films and wedding videos. Despite our increasing familiarity with drone presence, many of the people whose images are captured in this collection seem to be reacting to the camera with suspicion or even aggression. What a relief to discover that we haven’t entirely forgotten the drone’s military and surveillance origins.
There is potent meaning in inaugural flights. I am writing this introduction from North Carolina, a state that commemorates the Wright brothers’ “first in flight” milestone on its automobile license plates. Looking through Kim’s images, I found myself straining to find evidence of this first flight status: to see if I could tell, from an image separated from almost all context except this one bit of information, whether the pilot’s inexperience with the drone in question produced evidence of a mechanized gaze.
These images are stripped of identifying markers, withholding from viewers information about the date, location, camera specs, and identity of the pilot of the drones’ first flights. But the pull of human intervention remains strong: an image that does not differentiate between eyesight lines and cuts off subjects’ heads and feet indiscriminately as it ascends to the height desired by its pilot is still an image that has been isolated for us by Kim’s very human hand.
Parts of this selection previously appeared in First Flight, published by Outlaw Books.
—Abby Sun, Senior Editor, Nat. Brut
Dawn Kim is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She has never flown a drone.
Abby Sun, who originally hails from Columbia, MO, is a photographer, filmmaker, sound recordist, and lover of road trips. She is the Senior Editor and Photography Editor for Nat. Brut and a programmer for True/False Film Fest.