Blue Sky Days: A Drone’s Eye View

Tomas van Houtryve


In October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her home. At a US congressional hearing in October 2013, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” According to strike reports compiled by investigative journalists, Rehman’s grandmother is one of several thousand people to have been killed by covert American drone strikes since 2004.

In response, Tomas van Houtryve decided to attach his camera to a small drone and travel across America to photograph the very sorts of gatherings mentioned in strike reports from Pakistan and Yemen: weddings, funerals, groups of people praying or exercising. He also flew his camera over settings in which drones are used in America for surveillance purposes, such as prisons and the US-Canada border. Van Houtryve’s images draw attention to the changing nature of personal privacy and contemporary warfare. As more drones fill the sky, will their presence overhead eventually seem as ordinary as an airplane or bird? Or will people start wishing for grey skies?

Curated by Claudette Abrams