Two military aviators were working with drones when they struck on an idea: what if they used the remote- controlled aerial devices to take photos from angles no regular cameraman could reach? 

“We realized that some of the stuff we were creating was really, really aesthetically pleasing,” one pilot explains. After their photo “Lost” won an aerial photography prize, they knew they were on to something: “A lot of what we've achieved and created is very different from anything else you'll see in aerial photos.” The ability to remotely control a camera allows the team to capture angles and aspects that would be very difficult for a typical photographer. 
The two guys want to be known only as DroneArt31, preferring not to use their real names, perhaps because they're still in the military. They have their first art show in Long Beach this weekend, the city one of them hails from, and spoke to the Weekly while en route to California from New Mexico.

Another reason for the anonymity? As drones have become increasingly popular for military and home use, they have faced backlash. “Drone – I hate that word,” one of the artists said, preferring the term Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). But in their work, they use the word drone to incite debate: when the negative connotations of the word drone meet their art, they hope it will raise questions for viewers. 

DroneArt31's goal is not to promote any particular message, but to spark conversation, which they feel is needed: When it comes to drones, they say, “people are scared of something they don't understand.” 

"Heatwave."; Credit: DroneArt31

“Heatwave.”; Credit: DroneArt31

The pair say they want to play with the controversial theme of privacy that the idea of drones invokes. One of their earlier projects, “Le Voyeur,” depicts a woman undressing in front of a window. Many of their photos, too, such as “Heatwave,” feature sexualized women in desolate landscapes. It's hard to ignore the predatory feelings these photos elicit.

Rather than sidestepping our uncomfortable associations with unmanned aerial vehicles, DroneArt31 hopes to dive straight into them.

“We have yet to see anyone else trying to [use drones] to create art, and we hope it turns out to be something amazing that will spark that conversation and debate,” say the artists. And while this may be one of the first local art shows to use drones, we suspect it won't be the last. 

DroneArt31's photographs will be on view at Iguana Kelley's Bar in Long Beach from June 21 through July 21. The opening reception will be held Saturday, June 21, at 7 p.m. 

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