Foreign Policy Magazine



In 1858, a notorious artist and stuntman soared above a village near Paris in a hot air balloon to capture the world’s first aerial photographs. By then, the Industrial Revolution had already set humanity on its current course of radically re-engineering the planet. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, better known as Nadar, published his images in French newspapers to stoke public interest in building a heavier-than-air machine. Nadar’s friend, the author Victor Hugo, wrote in support of the artist’s dream for the future of flying: “It is the abolition of all boundaries. It is the destruction of separation.”

That obliteration eventually gave humanity a new self-image—a sweeping perspective, at once empowering and humbling.

Today, airplanes, satellites, and drones summon images that allow cartographers to map continents, countries to spy on arsenals, and relief workers to rescue the victims of floods and earthquakes. Yet the view from above has not ceased

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