Jeffrey Geiger: “Adrenaline Views: Rethinking Aerial Affect”

October 31, 2013 – 12:00pm – 1:30pm
Social Sciences and Humanities 1246

Explorations of links between modern and cinematic perception have often stressed the ‘parallel tracks’ of these altered states of speed and movement. Yet perhaps nothing encapsulates the intensifications of modern spatial relations more than the aerial perspective. Ranging from the shots taken from skyscrapers in Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manhatta (1921) to the gargantuan photogrammetric topographical surveys finally realised in the 1930s, viewing the world from the air was a “new perception of landscape hitherto unknown” (Hüppauf). Like the map and the aerial photograph, aerial cinematography offers graphic representations comprehended through the instruments of vision. As Denis Cosgrove observes, it can offer ‘Apollonian’ perspectives that encourage impressions of spatial order and control: the kind that animated not only modernist planners but also imperialist and military strategists. Yet in animating the map and the still image, aerial cinematography delivers a double kineticism, Teresa Castro notes, via experiences of simultaneous height and motion. Drawing on examples ranging from aerial cinematography from the 1930s – 1940s (when aerial photography and film was aligning with other ‘globalizing’ experiences and technologies), to Maverick missile POV and Predator drones, aerial surveillance, and recent aerial combat, this paper contests a ‘normative’ account of aerial views as emblematic, as one critic puts it, of “imperious and transcendent modern subjectivity,” suggesting instead they might be conceived at once as both graphic and haptic.

Jeffrey Geiger teaches at the University of Essex, where he established the Centre for Film Studies. Books include Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination (2007), American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (2011) and the co-edited Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (expanded edition 2013) and Cinematicity in Media History (2013). His essays have appeared in many books, and journals such as Third Text, African American Review, Cinema Journal, PMLA, and the TLS.