Vectors of Looking: Reflections on the Luftwaffe's Aerial Survey of Warsaw, 1944

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


The chapter takes us to 1944 and to a view from above that is also to do with a certain vision of the urban future, but this time of a radically different kind. For these ‘bird’s-eye views’ of Warsaw were taken by an Owl, or more precisely a Focke-Wulf 189A Eule, the reconnaissance aircraft whose twin-boom arrangement resulted in it being nicknamed “The Frame”. In her essay Ella Chmielewska reflects on a sequence of photographs drawn from the Luftwaffe’s aerial survey of the city that year, a project that recorded and memorialized the city as a prelude to its intended total destruction. Her text, which meditates on the experience of looking at these photographs, reflects on images of ruins, on ruined images, and on the complex moment and movement of photographic capture. Her discussion of the photographs re-establishes the importance of image sequence as it relates to the flight-path of the aircraft, whose frame-like shadow we find imprinted on Warsaw’s surface, while her close reading of them draws out the quotidian life of the fractured city below. She shows how figures on the ground – and in the past – at certain moments turn toward the aircraft overhead and, beyond it, to the observer of the image and her present. Thus, a kind of destabilization in the survey document is effected, in which the directionality of the gaze from above that is monumentalized in the photograph is unsettled by the witness of those below.
(From the Introduction by Mark Dorrian)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSeeing from Above
Subtitle of host publicationThe Aerial View in Visual Culture
EditorsMark Dorrian, Frédéric Pousin
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherI.B. Tauris
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9781780764603, 9781780764610
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2013


  • aerial photography
  • urban destruction
  • Warsaw
  • WWII
  • visuality


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