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My involvement with drones started due to an act of kindness. It began when my wife gave me a mavic mini as a Christmas present. I had not expected or even hinted for it but, on reflection, it was a perfect gift. As a child I had an interest in planes, one that led me to join the air training corps (424 squadron), sometimes known as the air cadets. Through them I was fortunate to be able to fly gliders and 2 seater chipmunks as well as being able to be a passenger in larger RAF planes such as Varsities - and all whilst still a school boy. To this day I have found even some of the most unpleasant flights to be an enjoyable form of travel. There is something about tipping the scales between gravity and lift, resulting in leaving the ground, that has a profound feeling. As an adult I have flown thousands of miles - literally around the world. I have done so in cramped economy seats and on fully reclining first class pods. I have been within the protected space of two storey commercial aircraft and I have hung exposed beneath the thin silken threads of parachutes. The role that a drone can play as substitute for these experiences can not be denied and yet it is one of the least important roles to me.
A drone can slightly scratch the itch of air travel but the journey it provides is elsewhere. More important are two other aspects. The first is how it changes ones perspective. Tall trees slowly reveal themselves as the drone rises, they shrink as it gains height and, as the camera faces down, become small circular forms. Small hills, walls and buildings that block the view from the ground become patterns within a wider landscape as the miracle of elevation opens up a wider world. In doing so it changes perspective, things are seen differently, forms take on new forms and the everyday becomes the new and, often, exciting. The fact that the drone is detached from the ground and the pilot causes something else to happen. There is the formation of distance and with distance comes the possibility of art. It is my belief that art lives in the dynamic spaces that are between the artist and the art public. The drone gives another dimension to that space, it extends the artists perception enabling an alternative way to explore creativity. In a similar way the viewer can often recognise this process and participates with it. The image is seen to be from this altered viewpoint resulting in the viewer sharing that sense of detachment. It is an unusual position in which a state of extended self (experienced by the pilot as they project themselves into the position of the detached drone) is shared by that of the viewer who is also detached from it but able to project into it. This can be illustrated by comparing it to looking at a photo taken through a plane window. The photo can be viewed on the ground but the viewer can identify the sense of being high in the sky.
One of the advantages of the drone lies not in how high it can fly, although that has its own advantages. I have found that it is often the low altitude images that can have most effect. A video of head height images are easy to understand. The sense of walking down a lane is one that is relatable as a common experience. The drone can take the viewer to that point but then move on to the less common. The ‘walk’ down the lane can lead to leaving the path and rising up over the trees, defying the pull of the nearby cliff and floating freely over water. This is the starting point, the stage in which the unique creative potential of the drone is born. What the pilot does from this point has almost endless possibilities. Aspects such as tilt, speed, direction and proximity meet with editing techniques like clip length, transition smoothness, music, sound and filters. This, and much more, results in an individually characteristic style which transforms the pilot into being an artist.
It is worth mentioning that experiencing this process, and being aware of both its potential and its limitations, changes the pilot in a number of ways. Speaking personally I can report that it is not only the learning of new skills that have impacted upon me. I have learnt about regulations alongside many technical aspect but there are other ways that I have been changed. Having spent years painting with acrylics and then oils I decided to try watercolours. The change of medium required different skills and approaches which, in turn, led me into exploring colour in different ways. In a similar way the methods involved in flying a drone has led me into seeing the world differently. I now imagine how the world is seen from many different perspectives, but I am also much more aware of things such as changing wind patterns, noticing what is above me and being aware of how things such as transmission towers and power lines have an impact.
It is not just these environmental and object related things that are important. With the drone also come a community. Through forum.dji.com and YouTube I was able to link up with experienced people who had their own styles and approaches from which I have been informed and educated. Each one brought a personality and an interest, be that walking barefoot, panoramic views of boats in harbours or extended journeys over dramatic landscapes. For some it was documenting the changing world, for others it was sharing special places but for all of them it is communicating something about themselves and their view, their art. Flying a drone can be a geeky hobby but it can also be a tool, like a sculptors chisel or a painters brush, that leads to creation, expression and change.