In the Clouds: A Selection of Aerial Views explores the use of aerial photography in mapping the Levant in the 1920s and 30s. Under the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, France claimed the administration of Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq (as well as lands in southeastern Turkey). The 39th Aviation Regiment of the Army of the Levant, based in Rayak, Lebanon, used aerial photography to help them map the ports, towns and villages newly under French control, as well as vital infrastructure such as bridges, fortresses and castles. Photographs exhibited from the Fouad Debbas Collection at the Sursock Museum in Beirut also plot the movement of Bedouin in the Syrian desert.
Technically, aerial photography was extremely challenging – cameras required foam shock absorbers to help absorb vibrations from the aeroplane’s engines that could blur the plates. A skilled photographer would join the pilot and a navigator, undertaking reconaissance flights to assess whether conditions were optimum both for flying and photography. The resulting imagery, whilst taken exclusively for military purposes – the Jabal Druze revolt of 1925 to 1927 attempted to wrest Syria from French control – is nevertheless part of the great experiment that the new art of photography provided, as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, among other pioneers, forever changed the way in which the world would be viewed.
• In the Clouds runs at the Sursock Museum, Beirut, until August 1. For more information, visit www.sursock.museum
Clare Dight is editor of The Review.
Source: art & life