Aerial Waste: the Rhetoric and Politics of Drone Environmental Photography

Conference: The Barcelona Conference on Arts, Media & Culture (BAMC2022)
Title: Aerial Waste: the Rhetoric and Politics of Drone Environmental Photography
Stream: Visual Culture
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation
Wenxi Hu, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China


The purpose of this paper is to examine aerial photography of bicycle waste and bicycle graveyards constructed during the bicycle sharing fever in Contemporary China in order to understand the complex environmental issues in China. The essay argues that the environmental aerial photography of No Place to Place (2018) is important because it embodies reflective visible ways of seeing waste, and in doing so, has the potential to challenge the progressive meaning of the sharing economy and rethink the pitfalls of contemporary environmental discourse in China. This paper engages with aerial photography criticism and ecological criticism using a material-discursive approach. The paper borrows the concept of drone gaze, featuring the material characteristics of the drone and the skills of the photographer to unveil three layers of the formulated power of drone environmental gaze: visibility power, mobility power, and aesthetic power. As a result of the combination of these three visual forces, aerial photographs create a powerful aesthetic: waste sublime. In the end, this essay reminds us that the mastery power embodied in drone photography still needs to be understood critically. As a result of using the top-down perspective, aerial photography implies a mastery of charm, and de-contextualized reading of aerial photographs may lead to the consumption of spectatorship. This study contributes to an understanding of how the politics of aerial view and the politics of ecological issues are interlinked in the Chinese context.

Virtual Presentation

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