In Topographies: Aerial Surveys of the American Landscape, Stephen Shore takes us on a captivating airborne journey across the sprawling American expanse, showcasing the intricate relationship between natural landscapes and human intervention. His compelling work, employing drone photography, marks another impressive milestone in a decades-long career dedicated to documenting the built and natural environments of the United States.
What immediately strikes about “Topographies” is how it shifts the viewer’s perspective from the horizontal to the vertical, letting us take in a bird’s-eye view of landscapes we’re used to seeing at ground level. With each passing page, you find yourself transported to everyday scenes in Montana, North Carolina, and New York.
The brilliance of Shore’s photography lies in his artful manipulation of viewpoint and distance, creating visual poetry that blurs the lines between the mundane and the abstract. His expansive aerial vistas display the grandeur of American landscapes while revealing the harsh realities of human intrusion. From the disarming simplicity of a house sitting alone in an open grassland to the brutal imposition of resource extraction facilities upon natural landscapes, Shore’s pictures portray a poignant interplay of beauty and desolation.
The book also gives insight into the technological advancements that make this perspective possible. The discussion of Shore’s drone setup, with its onboard Hasselblad camera, paints a vivid picture of how he maneuvered this high-tech gear to capture stunning images. In the context of our increasingly digitized world, Shore’s method of bringing a sense of perspective and tranquility through aerial imagery is refreshing.
Despite the vast expanse and the grandeur of his scenes, Shore ensures the human element isn’t lost. His pictures are not mere satellite images but thoughtful compositions that tell stories of the human interaction with nature, the ceaseless march of progress, and its tangible and intangible footprints on the landscape. It is a meditation on our place in the world, our interaction with it, and how we are irrevocably tied to the landscapes we inhabit and change.
Topographies: Aerial Surveys of the American Landscape is not just a photographic book; it is an exploration of the human condition and our ceaseless footprint on the planet. Shore, with his uncanny knack of finding the profound in the everyday, presents an illuminating view of America that urges us to consider the landscapes we’ve made, the ones we’re yet to build, and the costs of our progress. It’s a significant addition to the shelf of anyone interested in photography, urbanism, or simply the narrative of the American landscape.