Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Swissair Aerial Photographs

Swissair Aerial Photographs is a most fascinating tome, not only because of the partly spectacular photographs but also because of the text that introduces the images. It is a text that is especially rewarding for somebody like me who isn't at all familiar with the history of aerial photography. Never   would I have guessed that the aerial photography business that began in the early days of Swiss civil aviation around 1918 was of such importance. "In those early days, sales of aerial photographs were a more reliable source of revenue than the airline's irregular passenger flights, which only a wealthy few could afford."
General Motors logistics center in Studen near Bienne, 1973 (left)
The Waldkirchenfeld near Niederbipp, 1925 (right)

The circumstances under which the pictures were taken makes one think that these pioneers were, well, a bit nuts ... and they probably were. The challenges they had to face were considerable."The fleet in those days consisted of small, open-cockpit seaplanes and decommissioned military aircraft that were available at low prices after the war. Taking photographs from these flying machines was considerably more difficult than out of a drifting balloon. The biplanes were so light that they shuddered at every little gust of wind and were tossed around by turbulence, while fierce headwinds tore at the aviator's clothes ... While the pilot was controlling the plane, it was up to the photographer to control his own, extremely heavy piece of equipment. Sometimes this meant kneeling on the seat with his feet clamped underneath the pilot's seat to prevent him from falling out merely in order to remain as still as possible while focusing ...".
Chamoson, the largest wine-growing region in the Valais, 1999 (left)
"Railwaymen's Village" on the Geissenstein, in Lucerne, 1987 (right)

Swissair Aerial Photographs also informs about the buoyant demand for aerial surveys that began around 1950 with the building boom, the expansion of Switzerland's road network, and major energy infrastructure projects. "Their photogrammetric evaluation supplied the data needed to be able to draw and revise maps, cadastral surveys, and exact charts for the construction of dams, highways, roads, bridges, tunnels, sewage treatment plants, and nuclear installations."
Sawmill near Le Gottau on the Veveyse de Châtel in Châtel-St-Denis, 1925

The fact that the world could be viewed from above and from a distance not only changed the perception of the world, but also "chimed well with the technocratic worldview, making it a tool of military and police planners and strategists, departments of urban development and transport, architects, town planners, and cultural engineers."
Clouds in the Bernese Alps, 1919

Swissair Aerial Photographs provides, among quite some other things, an impressive inventory of lost landscapes, and of "over 2000 images of workshops and factories that Walter Mittelholzer (the legendary aviator) took from low flying altitudes with the intention of selling them to their proprietors" and that now constitute a rare visual archive of what then was not regarded as part of the cultural landscape.

Ruedi Weidmann
Swissair Aerial Photographs
ETH-Bibliothek, Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2015

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