Pine Barrens, Drones, and the New Aesthetic

When people think of unmanned aerial vehicles (more commonly known as drones) and the New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, there is little in common between the two, other than the curiosity of the unknown. Today, drones are something to be feared after news channels reported one coming very close to an airliner near New York. As for the Pine Barrens, most Jersey locals will simply think of a vast area of untouched land that is associated with the mythical Jersey Devil. But for artist John Vigg, the unknown has always been intriguing, and, through the use of drones, he is exploring parts of the Pine Barrens that would otherwise be untouchable.

“Photography has few limits,” the photographer, Gallery 13 The Collective Art Tankowner, explained to me. And for John, pushing limits is what makes his photography so intriguing. In today’s world, photography is not just classified to a camera’s lens anymore-it can be used through the internet, Google maps, security cameras, and drones (to name a few).

John’s usage of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) all started with his interest in the Pine Barrens, when he came across an area that, according to Google Maps, was supposed to be a

Google Maps mystery development.

development.  Yet when he ventured out there, no development existed: “I’m looking to make visible something that can’t be seen.  There is an spot of land in the middle of the forest where Google maps thinks there is a development.  In all actuality, if you go there, it’s just trees.  It took the use of a drone to get photographs of it.”  This fueled John’s interest to learn more about this untouched area, but he knew that what he hoped to accomplish couldn’t be done on foot, and so he successfully designed and his own UAV, programed a flight path, and over a few months continually photographed the area.

Since that time, Google’s claim to a nonexistent development has still not changed.  Even more interesting is that John noticed there were trails and marks in that similar area that were not located on Google Maps, as they should have been.  Without the UAVs, this would never have been discovered. Since learning about this mystery “development,” John continues to use the drones and develops them to fly further and gain higher resolution.

But why the Pine Barrens?  “Many of the areas have never had humans in them, making them really interesting as places to find a landscape.”  The Pine Barrens are the “largest tract of barren land east of the Mississippi River,” and yet have somehow remained untouched by developers in this overpopulated state.  Most people are quick to associate the Pine Barrens with The Jersey Devil and rednecks; but there is a lot more to this beautiful part of the Garden State.  To John and other great artists, such as Robert Smithson, the Pine Barrens are anti-art; anti-aesthetic, which is why it attracts him.

John wanted to explore an area where he could use photography to further describe it: “A big part of the changing landscape comes from our evolving perspectives to it,” John explained. “Our perspective is changing because the way we see is changing.  There was a time without color television, without color film; better yet, no Google street view or Google earth.  Now, these are common ways in which we have learned to see.  My art embraces a new aesthetic,” which for the photographer means embracing technology. John’s photography attempts to evolve what we, as human beings, accept as aesthetically pleasing.  So in an ever-growing digital age, John leaves us with the question: why is it any different to photograph with a drone, instead of a camera?