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Photography

Look at This! An Aerial Photographer's View of The World

This post is part of a series called Look at This!.
Look at This! Pictures of the Great Depression by Berenice Abbott and Dorothea Lange
Look at This! A Special Portrait From Voodoo Macbeth

People imagined the world differently in 1943. There was no GPS, no Google Maps, no satellites beaming back images of the earth, in fact no pictures from space at all. With a few exceptions, human experience and understanding of our home was decidedly terrestrial. George Hunter was once such exception.

Strip farming fields by george hunter
'Strip-farming fields at harvest time on the outskirts of Lethbridge, Alberta' by George Hunter via Library and Archives Canada

George Hunter was a Canadian documentary photographer. He is most famous for his captures of Canadian industry and, often, working landscapes. Many of his photographs are taken from a high vantage point, whether that was from up in the air in his plane, or at the top of a ladder attached to his coach.

‘I was born in Regina in 1921, prior to the Great Depression, but still a time of cautious living.' —George Hunter, Canadian Nature Photographer

In 1943, Canada was seeing a long period of growth. Given his upbringing, we can assume that this new era of increasing prosperity would have interested Hunter immensely and it’s no great surprise that he should choose to document it.

“My belief is that photographers… are the true historians of our day,”—George Hunter

His love of capturing and recording future history might have been further inflamed by the fact he was turned down by the navy to fight in WWII on health grounds. Perhaps he felt if he couldn’t make history, he could at least record it.

What Can We See in This Photograph?

We can see a small strip of houses at the bottom of the image and a patchwork quilt of farming fields, peppered with an occasional tree. We are clearly looking at a large rural area, from up high, taken around midday as there are no real shadows. It is a black and white photograph.

The high perspective makes this a unique vantage point for its time and that is thanks to Hunter’s love of planes, which eventually lead him to become a pilot and combine his two great loves: flying and photography.

What is Compelling About This Image?

Most images would have interest taken from a height, but due to the fact that we’re not used to seeing many of them (and fewer still when this was actually taken), what the height really allows us to see here are the amazing patterns the different fields create.

The image seems to be divided into three: the strip of houses at the bottom, the horizontal lined field in the middle and the mish-mash of squares, lines and patches at the top. We know things work better in threes so maybe rather than this having no subject, the picture actually has three perfectly balanced ones: the here, the there, and the far-away.

While not having a clear subject to hone in on might usually be frustrating, because of our vantage point it’s actually quite liberating to just see vastness, space, an endless rolling canvas of fields.

If there was a city in the distance for example, I’d be disappointed; I want to believe this open plain goes on forever, broken up only by a smattering of farmhouses and tiny communities. The smallness of the buildings clustered along the road at the bottom of the photograph reinforce this feeling of grand prairie vastness.

Your Turn! Earth as Seen From Spaceship Apollo

earth
A photograph from Apollo 7, part of the Project Apollo Archive via the Apollo Image Gallery.

You can’t get much higher than this! Here we see the world (or part of it anyway), from Apollo 7 during an Earth orbit. How does this make you feel? Where is this? Is the red (is it a window frame?) in the bottom left corner an annoyance or does it help the image?

If you're unsure of what to look for in a photograph, check out Dawn Oosterhoff's excellent article: How to Read a Photograph and let us know what you see in this image.

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