Topography and flight
: The creative application of aerial photography and digital visualisation for landscape heritage

  • Kieran Andrew Baxter

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Aerial photography and digital visualisation technologies are commonly used to reveal and interpret archaeological sites and landscapes. These methods afford a clarity and overview that has considerable advantages in heritage visualisation. Despite this, both technologies offer a view that is distanced from the grounded experiences that are integral to heritage sites and landscapes. This tension, between visualisation technologies and lived experience, is significant because the experiences of visiting these places are a valuable common platform - shared by specialists and general audiences alike - for communicating archaeological narratives. Beyond this, such tensions have been central to debates within landscape archaeology about how embodied perspectives on the one hand, and the conventions of visual representation on the other, might affect archaeological interpretations. This thesis investigates the hypothesis that creative practice can serve to bridge the gap between visualisation technologies and lived experience, ultimately providing more powerful and meaningful visualisations of landscape heritage.

This is possible because aerial and digital visualisations can and do go beyond topographical representation and respond to the aesthetic and emotive dimensions of landscape. Aerial photographs and digital models resist the visual modes of modernity despite their technological premise. The meanings that they transmit draw not only from the visual language of aerial photography and digital media but also from the viewer's prior experience of landscape and flight. It is within this context that this study attempts to better understand the relationship between visualisation technologies, creative practice, and the lived experience of landscape. To do this the author adopts the role of research-practitioner in order to explore and demonstrate the arguments through the creative application of aerial photography and digital visualisation technologies. This practice combines methods from archaeological survey, and approaches from visual effects filmmaking, with an aesthetic inspired by artist-photographers like Marilyn Bridges, Emmet Gowin and Patricia Macdonald. These creative practitioners have adopted the aerial view to portray landscapes with intimacy, agency and dynamism. The practice aims to work from an immersed or insider’s view, drawing influence from Tim Ingold’s notion of the “dwelling perspective”. A main case study is undertaken at the Iron Age hillfort site of the Caterthuns in Angus, Scotland, with supporting case studies at the prehistoric site of Links of Notlland in Orkney and additional hillfort sites in Strathearn. Through this hands-on experience the aim is to better understand how novel approaches to practice can improve landscape heritage visualisation in an interdisciplinary context.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsArts & Humanities Research Council & Historic Environment Scotland
SupervisorElaine Shemilt (Supervisor), Chris Rowland (Supervisor), John McGhee (Supervisor) & Nigel Johnson (Supervisor)

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