The raison d’etre of Ariel photography is to reveal itself as the creation and visual representation, of varying scales of surface terrain. This ‘non-oblique’ form of photography acts as a ‘flattening’ of the image, further enhancing the subject matter of the surface being ‘documented’. In saying this, the deliberate ‘framing’ of the surface partially removes the ‘matter-of-fact’ element which concerns most aerial photography, particularly with reference to the purposes of a ‘pure’ documentation of the landscape, and it transcends to the realms of ‘art’. An art form whose primary interest is abstraction, the understanding of human interaction and more recently, it is a critique of man’s effect upon the natural environment.
William A. Garnett was a aerial photographer whose work focused upon this ‘interaction’ of man and the natural setting. For over 50 years, and 10,000 flying hours ( akin to a commercial airline pilot), Garnett piloted his own ‘Cessna 170’ light aircraft while simultaneously photographing the surface below. Ansel Adams once commented that ‘“...when Garnett was flying his plane, he was literally flying the camera”. He used a variety of camera formats, film types and methods for this purpose, with the end result consisting mostly of ‘silver prints’ which show his diverse portfolio which varied from ‘pure abstraction’ to almost geometric ‘patterned compositions’. It is in its essence, its dramatic abstracted matriculation, the synecdoche of the term ‘suburbia’.
To describe Garnetts photographs as ones which concern ‘landscapes’ would be conceited, as many of his studies are free from the convention of grounding the image with the datum of a horizon line. This allows his work to focus on the geometric patterns, organic shapes and dramatic escarpments of the natural terrain which are not observable to those of the ground.
“Aerial photography in the 20th century served primarily as a documentary medium. William Garnett stands out as a pioneer in turning aerial photography into an art form. Through his camera work, Garnett looked for and emphasized beauty in the American landscape. With a conservationist’s turn of mind, he found pleasure searching out details in the terrain below him,”
Garnett’s initial recognition came when he published his series ‘Lakewood Housing’, this portfolio of work catalogs the construction of the Lakewood housing development in the suburbs of Los Angeles city. It is a series which is influenced by scale, abstraction, composition, critique and social narration. These tightly framed photos are most devoid of any people, but are completely conscious of the effect of ‘man’s’ interaction with the natural setting and revealing the abstract forms of urban development. Garnett’s self efficacy sought to transcend the journalistic role of the documentarian, in order to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’; which was the capturing within an image, the ulterior life of time and place. Taking aerial photos in an aeroplane as it moves across a terrain creates unique spatial and temporal demands of the photographer, Garnett pointed out that the delay in circling a plane around to gain a similar vantage point quite often meant that the light and conditions had changed and as a consequence so had the image.