Standardized Spaces: Satellite Imagery in the Age of Big Data


This essay traces the history of perspectival seeing, explaining the normalization of the “view from above” as a historical production of visuality in the post–cold war period, as it has merged with contemporary data renderings to present images as seemingly real representations of space. In explaining how satellite images are produced through the measurement of radiation emitted from the surface, data that are then rendered to mimic an aerial photo, the essay looks at how satellite images are visual enumerations. It argues that the scaling effect, alongside the mathematical measurement of the earth’s surface through remote sensing, produces a quantified space that replaces difference and heterogeneity to produce standardizations that hold authority over subjective experience of places. This contributes to the increasing “datafication” of social practice that fixes action in a rational grid in the contemporary era and contributes to the emergence of a new visual logic.