Photographer Tim Allen took an impromptu flight across south-east Victoria in 2013 and fell in love. Ever since, he's taken photos from helicopters and drones: highlighting the abstract beauty and eerie symmetry that lies within the everyday. His series Construct, for example, documents the industrial areas of Melbourne and Victoria, turning concrete landscapes into something almost cute—but only when seen from above.
We caught up with Tim and had a chat about his process, and what he’s trying to say with his panoramas of urban environments.
VICE: Hey Tim, let’s start with process. How do you get these shots?
Tim Allen: I usually only go up for an hour, because a Robinson 44—the helicopter I use—is about $900 an hour. That’s charged every few minutes, so I work directly with the pilot about what I want to achieve. Having the pilot understand aerial photography is completely different from having a pilot flying you out for a scenic shoot. In terms of planning, summer is a pretty clear time to go but then you run into issues like wind. It might be a beautiful day, but wind doesn’t care about photography.
How does having many variables to shoot actually affect your work?
I remember once, I was heading out for a dawn shoot. A lot of the time, especially in summer, you’re waking up at 4:30 or 5 AM just to get to the airport for a 6 AM flight. I had this pilot, this really great guy that knew a lot about aerial photography—but he was so prepared for photography that he actually forgot to install the cyclic, which you use to steer the helicopter. Sure, it didn’t put us out, and we made it to the location in time, but it’s those kinds of things that can affect everything. Once you’re up there though, it doesn’t matter.
When you're shooting these landscapes, what exactly are you looking for?
There isn't a specific subject matter I’m looking for. Most of the times I go up—in fact, all the time I go up—it’s a pure fluke. I’m constantly scouring the landscape below for anything that’s compelling. This idea gets thrown around a lot, but for me, my work is like those times when you’ll look out of the window on an airliner and see something that grabs your attention.
Sometimes I can be shooting something and not notice that I’ve picked up on this art aesthetic quality. I’m looking at this artistic point of view. That’s where my background comes from. My mum was into photography, and she was in that creative space a lot.
So why not just shoot photos on the ground?
I'm attempting to expand this idea of capturing an aerial screenshot of the landscape at that present moment. I don't always expect environments to undergo constant or rapid change, but in time many places change how they look and operate. That itself can have a lasting effect on how the environment, the natural and the man-made, is used moving forward.
I feel your work blends aerial photography with abstract art, while also being a catalyst for conversation. For example, your series Moving showcases the presence of the man-made within the natural landscapes of Victoria. What exactly are you hoping to show your audience?
I’m really interested in hyperrealism. I’m just as interested in reality, but there’s this real balance between making people realise what they’re seeing is real, but at the same time, saying “What the hell is this?” With my series Moving, there’s a photo of Hazelwood Coal Mine, where all the coal is being separated from the earth, looking like a painting on a canvas. It’s only there because we stuck machines in the middle and pulled out all of the elements. I feel that people are interested in their surroundings, yet they've never discovered it for themselves. There’s a way of seeing, and I want to project the way I’m seeing.
You have a new series, Munga Thirri —a documentation of the Simpson Desert and its landscape. It's a series that is very similar to your first collection Terra Firma. How will this add to your overall portfolio?
Munga-Thirri is more of a connection to where my opportunity to explore aerial photography first came to fruition; a way for me to connect my own interest in the exploration of the landscape from another vantage point altogether. On a deeper level, this series connects the dots between the natural and the man-made world in a sense that the only reason it’s not used is that of the complete remote desolation and its perceived lack of purpose. My work isn't always internally chasing these connections but rather pinpointing the similarities and the just as important differences to juxtapose the real world we live in.
Interview by Sam Nichols
Check out more of Tim's work at his website