Artist Michael Tolmachev reveals the covert landscapes of drone warfare

15 March 2013

The images in Michael Tolmachev’s photos series Air to Land, currently running at Moscow’s Gallery 21, are deceptively bland. On first impression they seem to be long range images of largely characterless landscapes - deserts, mountains, an empty concrete landing strip beside a beach. But these are images that carry an unsettling, hidden force.

A graduate of Moscow’s Institute of Contemporary Art and currently studying in Leipzig, Tolmachev has participated in a number of group shows in Russia and Germany. Air to Land, his first solo exhibition, is on show until 23 March. And it reveals him to be as much of a detective as an artist.

Disturbed by the proliferation in US and allied unmanned aircraft activity since the war on terror, Tolmachev began to study photos of drones published in the press. Through a careful topographical analysis of the landscapes in the background of the images he was able to identify the location of the drones. By doing so, he has built a map of the secret network of western military bases spread across the globe. The names of the photos in his series speak for themselves: Fort Drum, South-East Kandahar, Kohi Safi Mountains. “Most of these places look really harmless,” says Tolmachev. “My aim was to reveal the hidden threat of those peaceful landscapes, to show what lies behind their superficial calm.”