Dronestagram
Dronestagram

HOW ELSE #4

James Bridles' Dronestagram

Socially engaged publishing and meaningful aesthetics can make journalism more accessible to a broader audience. An example of this is artist’s James Bridle’s Dronestagram. It was a four-year project which published aerial images of landscapes of drone strikes on social media, from 2012–15. Bridle has created a number of artworks about drones1, however, Dronestagram is not just a critique of drones. It works by drawing information on covert drone strikes from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and posting Google Maps Satellite images on Instagram, Twitter as well as Tumblr with summaries of the locations. By publishing images of drone strikes as they occurred using already existing social platforms for live reporting of these events, Bridle informed the public, potentially lessening apathy. Dronestagram was a critique of the way that drone strikes were communicated to the public, which is without imagery. The project also critiqued social media as a tool that is being used to conceal and confuse the public whilst being presented as something which allows people into each others’ realities. As Bridle himself wrote:

History, like space, is co-produced by us and our technologies: those technologies include satellite mapping, social photo sharing from handheld devices, and fleets of flying death robots. We should engage with them at every level. These are just images of foreign landscapes, still; yet we have got better at immediacy and intimacy online: perhaps we can be better at empathy too.2

This project was successful in the sense that it was covered by international media and gained thousands of social media followers. Additionally, it enabled dialogue between people from the Middle East and the West about drone wars. It is a good example of what journalism can achieve when employing design methodology which allows space for critique and social engagement.

How Else refers to criticism of critical design. Traditionally, critical design tends to ask ‘why not’, however it is criticised for it as it is suggested that it would be more useful if it asked ‘how else’. This is because ‘why not’ often refers to imagining new, future — more often than not dystopian — scenarios of how design will impact society, challenging the status quo. However it could perhaps serve society in a more useful way if it focused on asking ‘how else’, because this refers to redefining what already exists by rethinking the ways in which they work. The Common Affairs is about taking journalism and design as they are right now and imagining new ways in which the two fields could interact. This way, the platform challenges the status quo pragmatically.