with Robert Gerard Pietrusko
We’ve all seen them. We’ve all felt the emotive effect as they render the vegetal world in saturated reds, pinks, and cyans. False Colour aerial images offer us a hyper-aestheticized depiction of landscapes, especially in times of crisis. From Landsat images of deforestation, wildfires, and harmful algal blooms to depictions of civil war in Africa, the aerial image rests on a teleological narrative of visuality – their beauty is merely scientific; we should not be suspicious.“ They reveal,” we are told, “the invisible.”
Used this way, false colour images exhibit a profound irony; divorced from the original context of their conception and the complex network of invention, interpretation, and decision-making for which they were originally intended, their context is far removed from the matter-of-factness they now seem to communicate. In this lecture, Robert Gerard Pietrusko explores the development of false colour images within the R&D cauldron of US Cold War intelligence and their use as proxies for the Soviet economy and its broader geopolitical capacity. Detailing how, through a series of translations, intelligence analysts looked at the detailed shades of vegetal red and saw Eurasian crop yields, Soviet caloric needs, and the economic infrastructure of “third-world” proxy wars, Pietrusko shows how small variations of infrared reflections scale into global foreign policy and military strategy.