Review of The Eye of War:  Military Perception from the Telescope to the Drone

The Eye of War:  Military Perception from the Telescope to the Drone
by Antoine Bousquet

University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/London, 2018
256 pp., illus. 46 b/w. Trade, $108; paper, $27.00
ISBN 978-1-5179-0346-6; ISBN 978-1-5179-0347-3.

Reviewed by
Ana Peraica
April 2019

The theory of photography (and its history, in parallel) is having a new revival in the post-digital era. Following two previous large episodes –– the quite vivid seventies widening the scope of photography studies into cultural ones, as well as nineties merging with media studies –– the new research is characterised by a parallel and non-discriminatory review of the technological and artistic history of the medium. From the core of technological development a critical question arises: What is the medium––without humans? One of books leading to answers is Antoine Bousquet’s The Eye of War:  Military Perception from the Telescope to the Drone, reviewing the history of pre and post photographic technologies leading to unmanned automated vehicles (UAV) that can be here case-redefined as the unmanned automated vision.

This book dives deeply back into history of canonic studies of perspective and projective geometry, recognised as founding methods for further the rationalisation of visions and mathematization of space, as well as introducing the first technologies of space-measuring as distance meter. Still, contrary to major histories of perspective, usually analysed in belle arte, Bousquet compares the artistic and the military or soldier’s perspective. Founding the chapter on Frederic Kittler, William J. Mitchell, and Martin Kemp’s analysis of perspective, Bousquet proceeds to defining the algorithmic logic of perspective, the computative not illusionary construction of space. The second chapter deals with the succeeding development of optical technologies, from distance-expanding ones such as the telescope to a night-enhancing vision, as well as enhancers of a different spectral visions, but also visualisation of acoustic space, all leading to the development of spy technology and further development of targeting. The third chapter reviews the localized history of commonly omitted technology in photography history – a camera lucida, and its central place in developing authentically photographic method of space measuring and fully developed in photogrammetry. It continues to aerial photography, which is described via perspectival technologies (although losing many elements of the traditional definition of perspective). Bousquet also gives attention to ortophoto methods, via the history of stereoscopic vision. Finally, he overviews the orbital gaze, and the introduction of semi and fully automated vision. The chapter on mapping succeeds, reviewing classic places in history of maps, still paying more attention to the role of maps in military service, but also on the automatization of geodesy, as well as satellite-run positioning tools (GPS) based on triangulation, explained in the first chapter. This chapter also pays an attention to a representation of elevation in mapping, that will become more interesting in the last chapter on camouflage, dissimulation and misdirection.

Through many sub-themes the central concept of the book is targeting, common both to visual and military technologies. Bousquet covers a transformation of the “lethal surveillance” to “killing eye”, but also Virilio’s logistic of perception and “hypervisibility”, itself in the background of camouflage studies. The book is deeply grounded in classics in visual studies such as Martin Jay, William J. Mitchell, Frederic Kittler, on military visions by Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard, Harun Farocki, war machines by Deleuze and Guattari, but also cyberwar theories by Martin Libicki and Martin van Creveld. Bousquet as well consults geographic theories by Nigel Thrift and others.

Although histories of a majority of equipment reviewed by this book are a part of the general knowledge, their channeling into an argument of development of human vision into a weapon against itself are not. Bousquet brings, besides known facts, also some historical delicacies as well as an updated history of technology, compressing them into a complex history, which makes this book a journey into a compressed data. Informed writing, still, deliberated of crowding of references and notes, with a rich language, this book may be very useful to anyone who wants to recall and revise some known facts about the medium and a good overview of themes framing contemporary discussion for the beginners.