Most of us may find it surprising that at this point in time most Americans will have been ‘seen’ by a drone, even if they have never looked up into the sky to see one themselves. Interested in ‘the changing nature of surveillance, personal privacy and war,’ photographer Tomas van Houtryve recently acquired a drone, adapting it to be able to take high definition imagery from the sky with video transmission back to a monitor on the ground.

The project was prompted when in October 2012 a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside of her home. At a briefing held in Washington DC, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson spoke to a group of five lawmakers: “ I no longer love blue skies. In fact I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” 

Focusing on open, public spaces in America, van Houtryve sought to capture the types of gathering that have become targets for foreign air strikes. These have included weddings, funerals and people praying or exercising. Settings such as prisons and oil fields were also explored by the photographer, however he notes that these are settings in which drones are used to ‘less lethal effects. ‘

The current system for drone usage in the US has not caught up yet with legislations in the UK and France, allowing civilians such as Tomas van Houtryve relative ease of access. Whilst there are relatively benign usages of this form of surveillance, the unregulated potential possibilities it offers as a new form of policing power is what is perceived to be concerning.

text by Maresa Harvey