Bird’s-eye views highlight history of aerial photography exhibit

Chen Ming, ‘200 feet above Grand Park,’ 2016. Inkjet digital print. Courtesy of the artist

GLENDALE, Calif. – “The Elevated Eye: Aerial Photography Past and Present,” an exhibition opening at the Forest Lawn Museum on Oct. 10, examines the history of aerial photography, from its origins in the 19th century to the boundary-pushing technologies of the 21st century.

While the exhibition highlights a number of stunning locations around the world, many of the images focus on Los Angeles and Southern California, revealing how the region has developed over the course of more than a century. “The Elevated Eye” traces the parallel developments of flight and photography as well as the intersections of art and technology, illustrating how a simple change in perspective transforms the familiar into the spectacular.

On view in the newly remodeled Forest Lawn Museum at Forest Lawn through March 8, 2020, the exhibition assembles nearly 150 images and 14 minutes of video, as well as satellite models and drones. It includes photographs from Forest Lawn Museum’s permanent collection that have never been displayed as well as works from the Getty Research Institute; Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens; and the Special Collections of Los Angeles Public Library. The exhibition is Forest Lawn Museum Director James Fishburne’s inaugural exhibition in the space and encompasses two of the museum’s three galleries.

“The Elevated Eye: Aerial Photography Past and Present” looks at the full span of aerial photography, beginning with the balloonists in Europe and the United States who pioneered the field as well as early alternatives to hot air balloons, including cameras attached to pigeons and kites. The exhibition features a reproduction of the oldest surviving aerial photograph, which was taken above Boston in 1860. Images of early Los Angeles — including the oldest surviving aerial view of the city, which dates to 1887, and aerial photographs from Forest Lawn Museum’s collection that date back nearly 100 years — show the transformation of Los Angeles, Forest Lawn, and the city of Glendale as they developed from semi-rural areas into parts of a dense urban fabric.

During the second half of the 20th century, photography was an important part of the Space Race as cameras were used to document the movement beyond the stratosphere. “The Elevated Eye” includes early NASA images from the Apollo missions of the 1960s and later images from the International Space Station, as well as the work of Erwan Rivault, a French geographer who uses open-access data from European Space Agency satellites to create stunning images of natural wonders on the Earth’s surface. A model of the International Space Station from the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a “CubeSat” satellite from Interorbital Systems, and camera-equipped drones will allow visitors to better understand the technology used to help create remarkable aerial images of the past, present and future.

Drones have risen to the forefront of contemporary aerial photography, and the exhibition will feature more than 20 drone images as well as mesmerizing video footage by Chen Ming. The prominent drone pilot and photographer maneuvers above cities and beside buildings to reach places that are inaccessible to other aerial vehicles. Through strict vertical angles and tight framing of images, he deconstructs the architectural and civic spaces of Los Angeles and offers rare and intriguing perspectives of American and international monuments.

Though often used for technical and scientific purposes, a number of fine artists also use aerial photography. Four large-format images by David Maisel, a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow in the Creative Arts, depict aerial views of Los Angeles printed as negatives. They present an eerie yet familiar interpretation of the city’s urban sprawl, which offers a stark contrast to the historical images of undeveloped Los Angeles elsewhere in the exhibition. Sixty-five images from Lane Barden’s Linear City series trace Los Angeles’s major corridors in a cinematic journey that carries viewers through the metropolis. And collages by multi-disciplinary artist and writer Jenny Odell cluster Google Satellite Views of enormous structures and place them into collections of common objects, resulting in artworks that offer a truly unique approach to aerial photography and prompt viewers to contemplate the infinite nature of both the internet and the universe.

“The Elevated Eye: Aerial Photography Past and Present” is open Oct. 10–March 8. There will be a public opening reception on Oct. 10 from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. with a special guest speaker. Guests are invited to RSVP to the opening at museum@forestlawn.com. Admission and parking are free. Forest Lawn Museum is closed for renovation until Oct. 10. Call 323-340-4545 or visit www.forestlawn.com for details and program information.