Last summer, a photographer on assignment for National Geographic was arrested for criminal trespass after flying over a feedlot in Kansas for a shoot. George Steinmetz and Wei Zhang, a paraglide instructor, were briefly detained for parking on the facility's property, not for the aerial excursion. But with numerous states debating ag-gag laws—including a law on the books in Kansas—the incident set off alarm bells among critics of factory farming. Was the investigation of the ag industry becoming increasingly criminalized?
Will Potter, who has written extensively on ag-gag and other factory farming–related issues, certainly believes so. On his blog, Green Is the New Red, and in stories written for other publications, he’s argued that investigations by groups like the Humane Society are being framed as domestic terrorism. Between employing that inflammatory language and the push for more ag-gag laws, making it illegal to document animal cruelty, Potter wants to know what the ag industry has to hide—and he’s betting that drones can help him find out.
With his new Kickstarter campaign, which was fully funded just days after it launched, he will launch an investigation into factory farms powered by drone photography. The project will culminate in a book of aerial photography accompanied by Potter’s reporting and a short documentary about the novel approach to investigative journalism.
In the video describing the project, Potter says the idea was inspired by the satellite images of feedlots that British photographer Mishka Henner created for an exhibition last year. The striking images expose the ecological damage such confinements create, the luridly colored waste ponds shown leaching into the surrounding environment. “It made me wonder what else we could see from aerial-drone photography,” Potter says.
Since he has surpassed his $30,000 goal, we should get an answer to that question—and it’s unlikely that the results will be as wonderful as Henner’s beautiful photos.