Through his investigation of military drones, writer, artist, publisher and technologist James Bridle analysises the visual, technological, ethical and political impact on modern warfare - and how anonymous, automated machines can remove any trace of the human hand in committing acts of war.
Over the course of a few years, starting in around 2009, I started to become quite obsessed by drones - the military ones, the flying death robots, that had been in the air for a while, spreading a certain kind of warfare around the world, but had not really entered the public consciousness, or the public discourse. I was trying to understand these machines, and I had been drawing them: sketching them out in a series of 1:1 outlines in city streets, called Drone Shadows. But I was also intrigued by their point of view - or rather, as with so many aspects of contemporary conflict, and contemporary technology, the absence of it.
I was reading the reports of drone strikes in undeclared wars, illegal assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, gathered from eyewitness accounts and local media by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. But I was struck by the absence of imagery. We’ve become used to the mediation of war, the live coverage of shock and awe, cameras in the nosecones of cruise missiles. Before TV, radio reported from war zones; before photography, newspapers sent illustrators to the battlefield.
But this war, the most technologically advanced and apparently endless war, was devoid of imagery. And yet at the same time, we’ve spent the last decade obsessively photographing the planet from space, and building image-sharing networks that connect the cameras in everyone’s pockets to everyone else. I can take out my phone and see through the eyes of someone on the other side of the planet - or through the sensors of a satellite in high earth orbit. Moreover, these systems of visibility and surveillance operate on the same substrate as the war machine, the drones themselves: networked communications, digital images, GPS systems.
So I decide to close the circle. Take images of the landscapes of the drone war, located on publicly-available digital maps, and post them back to social media as the strikes occur. Villages in Waziristan, quiet desert roads in Shabwa, coastal settlements in Shabelle - places no Western reporters or soldiers go to, bombed by robots, photographed by other robots, circulating through Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr. Every time the drones strike, an image. I’d like to stop now, but I can’t. That’s not how the network, or the war, works.
See the rest of James Bridle’s Dronestgram feed