IT’S A QUESTION for our times: How does the world look through the eye of a drone? From there, the questions only proliferate, and become less answerable: What is the effect — on drone pilots, on policy-makers, on society — of viewing our shifting, contingent, conflicted world through such lethal, yet distancing technology? (That speck on the ground — is it someone we should kill?) What are the moral, emotional, political and spiritual consequences — on drone pilots, on policy-makers, on society — of making life-and-death decisions based on seeing things from a drone’s inhuman point of view?
Now, let’s talk to an artist.
“There are five Apache helicpters flying past me right now,” artist Christopher Tsouras yelps on his cell phone; it’s a handy bit of synchronicity that dovetails perfectly with the sense of militarized anxiety underpinning our talk of drones, and his aesthetic response to the questions above.
Tsouras, an art prof at CSN, says his new exhibit at the Winchester Cultural Center, Drone Series, began about a year ago. He was photographing various structures around the north end of the valley when it occured to him that Creech Air Force Base, dark heart of the military drone effort, was right up the road.
“I tried to imagine what it was like to be in that battlefield,” he recalls. It was a powerful imaginative moment: “The Las Vegas Valley sort of evaporated, and I was transported away from where I was, trying to look at the world through those remotely piloted aircraft.”
Drone Series became his attempt to find an style of photography commensurate with that “new means of perception.” Look at the image from the show, above. It recalls the grainy, speed-occluded look of the drone footage we’ve all seen; we could be following a missile in for its final strike. There’s also a sense of abstraction to the photo that suggests the in-betweenness of the drone pilot, whose eyes are in the battlefield but whose actual self is safely away. (Tsouras notes that some drone pilots suffer PTSD.)
Drones are a powerful metaphor for this new century, raising essential questions not only of politics and statecraft but of how we use and relate to our technology, and what it costs us. Artists like Tsouras take us along for the ride. SCOTT DICKENSHEETS
DRONE SERIES Christopher Tsouras. through Oct. 4, Winchster Cultural Center, 3130 McLeod Dive, 455-7340. Opening reception 5:30-7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 16