Laura Kurgan, Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology and Politics, Zone Books, New York, 2013, 232 pages, 175 colour illus., $ 36.95, £ 25.95 hardback, ISBN 978-1-935408-28-4 (http://www.zonebooks.org/titles/KURG_CLO.html)
Laura Kurgan’s Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology and Politics is an insightful and innovative book that defies straightforward classification, ‘poised’ as it is “at the intersection of art, architecture, activism and geography” (page 17). Its subject matter—satellite images, satellite mapping and remote-sensing images—is by now an established concern of critical geographical scholarship in particular (see, amongst others, Cosgrove 2001; Crampton 2008; Crampton 2010; della Dora 2012; Dodge and Perkins 2009). Readers familiar with that scholarship will doubtlessly recognise many of the issues and debates broached by Close Up at a Distance: over the military origins of satellite technologies, images and mapping and the extent to which this still imposes secrecy and restrictions on their availability; on the promise and perils of ‘participatory’ cartography and the ‘democratic’ potentialities this may or may not offer; and finally, whether and how the increasingly ubiquitous use of satellite images and mapping might “transform … our ways of seeing and experiencing space” (page 14). The distinctive feature of Kurgan’s work in addressing these issues, though, is that it rejects the proposition that scholars can or should simply evaluate and respond to these at a ‘critical distance’: “[W]e do not stand at a distance from these technologies, but are addressed by and embedded within them”, Kurgan argues. Hence, “Only through a certain intimacy with these technologies—an encounter with their opacities, their assumptions, their intended aims—can we begin to assess their full ethical and political stakes” (page 14).