The history of maps is a long and varied one, from the earliest wall paintings depicting ancient cities to the digital representations we’re all familiar with from looking at Google Earth. These latter images, captured by satellites, allow us to see the Earth in ways our ancestors would’ve been completely astounded by—the Earth from above looks like a very different, almost serene, place compared to the day-to-day grind of living on it.
Photographer David Thomas Smith has taken these satellite images and given them a twist, merging the disciplines of photography, map-making, and tapestry to make symmetrical aerial landscapes of industrial and commercial sites, created from composites of digital files.
Smith arranges the images based on traditions found in Afghan rug making—specifically how they record their experiences and their country’s landscape in the tapestry—and uses the patterns and motifs as inspiration to create his own interpretations of the Earth from above. Combining main and sub patterns—which in Persian rug-making usually depict anything from monuments and Islamic buildings to tribal shapes—Smith shows us Silicon Valley, Las Vegas, a mall, and China’s industrial growth.
As well as transposing the Persian carpet-making traditions onto satellite images of Earth, Smith’s project also follows in the artistic lineage of Italian artist Alighiero Boetti whose Mappa series featured embroidered maps of the world with countries represented as national flags, creating a geopolitical portrait of the earth. The maps were a collaborative effort made by up to 500 artisans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, with each “mappa” taking up to two years to complete and as large as 7ft wide and 4ft tall.
Like Boetti’s work, Smith’s images “reflect on the global order of things” while also showing the “collision between the old and the new, fact and fiction, surveillance and invisibility”.
Delta Coal Port, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Beijing International Airport, Beijing, China
Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ, USA
Las Norias de Daza, Almeria, Spain
Silicon Valley, CA, USA
Fimiston Open Pit, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia, Australia
Mall of America, East Brodway, Bloomington, MN, USA
Las Vegas, NV, USA
Burj Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Three Gorges Dam, Sandouping, Yiling, Hubei, China
Three Mile Island Generating Station, Middletown, PA, USA
1000 Chrysler Dr, Auburn Hills, MI, USA