Photography and videography give you the ability to capture the world as you want it to be seen. With modern technology you can capture an image with a certain perspective in mind and then further edit it on your phone or computer to show something completely different. The possibilities are simply endless. That is of course if you are not a drone pilot in South Africa, living under the updated Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) remote controlled aircraft laws.
South Africa was one of the first countries to implement a specific set of laws controlling remote controlled aircrafts for hobbyists and photographers. Certain laws worth mentioning are a flight ceiling of 120m and ensuring that no flight plan is within 50m of a road or residential property, among many others. Breaking these laws can warrant a fifty thousand rand fine or up to ten years’ imprisonment.
Matthew Wroth is a drone videographer and photographer in Cape Town and has felt the effects of the recent updates to the CAA drone laws. Matthew’s work used to focus on capturing the lives of individuals in different environments through the lens of the drone. One photographer in particular, Johnny Miller, was a big inspiration to Matthew, specifically Miller’s ‘Unequal Scene’ collection that highlighted the contrast between the rich and the poor in South Africa. However, Matthew has had to change the focus of his work out of frustration rather than choice, as the law does not allow for flight plans over residential areas. Thus meaning that certain locations that offered powerful photographs can no longer be captured by drone.
Matthew’s previous portfolio showed Cape Town for what it was and didn’t pretend to make it something else. He showed the beauty that Cape Town had to offer such as the white sandy beaches of Llandudno and the rolling hills of the vineyards in Constantia. Yet it also showed the other side of Cape Town, the Cape Flats where some of the main roads were made of sand and where a lack of any real infrastructure had affected so many in the fires of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay earlier this year. Matthew felt that his portfolio was able to open the eyes of individuals in Cape Town who lived in their comfortable rich bubble by showing them something they could relate to, but then also showing them the downfalls of the society that is right on their doorstep.
Matthew hopes that work regarding breaking the barriers between the rich and the poor is continued by other photographers who may have taken inspiration from his work in the same way that he took from Millers. The frustration that now accompanies trying to find an area that is safe to fly in but is still worth capturing became too frustrating for Matthew, ultimately resulting in him no longer enjoying his work. It is an issue that he will continue to pursue, just from the point of view of a hand held camera, rather than a drone.
Matthew now focuses on Marine photography, but from the air. A perspective that he feels is yet to be explored and hopes to be one of the first to develop a portfolio that will encourage others to do the same.
The recent Cape Whale migration is a spectacle that Matthew has focused heavily on in his recent work. He feels that he has his freedom back in relation to being able to fly where he wants without having to worry about drone laws, to a certain extent of course. Flying over the ocean means that there is no need to worry about flying near residential areas or intruding on someone’s privacy. The fact that the airspace above the water is less congested than it is on land is also a positive. By doing this sort of work, Matthew hopes to show the whales from a different perspective than what we see from land, and encourage individuals to make more of an effort to preserve our oceans so that this spectacle may continue year after year. This is an issue that is equally as pressing as his previous work, as the ocean is an important part of our environment, especially in Cape Town.
Laws surrounding drones are however important as without them, the chances of a member of the general public being hurt are increased. These laws are in place to ensure that a certain level of safety is maintained, especially considering the fact that your average drone is becoming cheaper and cheaper due to an increased interest in recent years. However, these laws do have greater implications as it means that work such as Matthews is no longer able to continue at the same rate reducing the chances of individuals being able to see such problems within our society. The perspective that Matthew was offering was fairly unique and extremely eye opening and the fact that this work can no longer continue is a loss as it was having a positive impact on society. Problems like these need to be identified when implementing certain laws due to the fact that the knock on effects are vast, as with trying to prevent the odd drone crash, you are losing the ability to open the eyes of some who could make a positive change.
Drone laws in South Africa are constantly restricting different videographers and photographers around the country, so much so that many are changing directions in order to still be able to produce content and earn a living. Matthew is a key example of a photographer who is directly affected by the CAA and it is a shame to see such a powerful movement get left behind. However, it is still nice to see that individuals are not giving up on drones and are still aiming to use them as tools to better the world that we live in. Drones are amazing pieces of technology, and it is a shame to have to watch the law limit their possibilities in South Africa.
(All photos on this page are my own)