Phillip George seeks to unify zones of cultural difference – through his art – by exploring and making connections between the complexities that exist between East and West. His work draws connections between Australian beach culture and the fractured, turbulent zones of the Middle East. 

George has exhibited widely over the past thirty years with exhibitions throughout Australia, Europe, America and Asia. In 2008 George produced his seminal exhibition, Borderlands at the Casula Powerhouse in Sydney, NSW. His work is in private and public collections internationally.

DroneAdvice: When did you decide to take the plunge and start flying drones? What type of drone do you fly?

Phil: About 2 ½ years ago I started working on a new art project which involves filming waves with 20 to 30-metre faces. I needed a few particular cinematic angles of the water. I looked into helicopters but they were not practical or flexible enough for what I need to do.

Big-wave surfing Mecca: Nazaré Beach, Portugal

The only practical way was to use a drone, so I purchased a DJI Phantom 4 Pro which works wonderfully. But with all the video and photographic equipment and the need to travel internationally, I also picked up the DJI Mavic Pro. The Mavic Pro is the drone I now use when traveling – I also use it when I travel within Australia. The Mavic is so convenient. It fits into my camera bag and it’s the drone I seem to use most.

Let me put on my geek hat for a second. What I wish for is a drone that folds up and unfolds to a size that is double that of the Mavic (for stability in strong wind) – shoots 4K to 6K video, 50 MP raw photos, has a zoom function, is waterproof and submersible. Not much to ask for – make it happen DJI.

DroneAdvice: We also like the sound of a drone that can do all of those things! But getting back on track, how does having a drone provide lift to the innovative work you’re doing in the art world?

Phil: Let me move now from geek to a brief art world statement. My work is driven by creative concepts, so whatever is needed to realise the concept, I will attempt to do.

The nature of the work I see as epic in scale, and the drone is used simply as a very tall tripod, permitting me a stable aerial platform from which to film. I’m using the drone in a limited way, not flying around and filming, but navigating to a point in space, hovering there and filming from one position. I’m letting the scale of the waves provide the action as they move past my point in space. The use of the drone within the film-making process is a critical complement to my photography and film-making. This way of working was not viable a few years ago.

Nazaré Beach, Portugal – 17 January 2018

The working title for the new work is, One Minute Mountain which explores notions of our personal transience, our cultural instability, upheaval and geopolitical liquidation, and is seen as a metaphor of our contemporary condition. The work is a response to 15 years of travel throughout the Middle East. Traveling in the Middle East, it is almost impossible not to see the biographical signifiers of culture, power, wealth, religion and their impact upon the landscape via monuments, cites and religious structures and how transient they all are.

DroneAdvice: We understand that you’ve spent some time doing some exciting drone work in Portugal recently. Can you tell us a bit about more that?

Phil: The work I’m making is based in Nazaré in Portugal. A few times every winter this location produces gigantic surf that is close to land and accessible for filming. On big epic days, waves there have 20 to 30-metre faces and the humans racing down the face of the wave look like ants. I’m not making a surf film, I’m filming the wave, but the surfers in the water are important as they give scale to the wave. I see the line-up of the surf as a vast moving landscape.

Phil (left) with Rodrigo Koxa (right), the current world record holder for the biggest wave ridden.

Nazaré’s notoriety will see film-makers photographers and drone pilots gather from all over the world. On the big days there can be a million dollars worth of camera equipment on the cliff line and many drones in the air at one time. There is a space back from the cliffs that becomes a drone airport, where all the drone crews gather with a type of order imposed by the various crews.

Technical surf and weather data for Nazaré Beach from the 17-18 January 2018 big-swell days.
Source | Magic Seaweed
DroneAdvice: Were there any hoops to jump through to make sure you were able to firstly get the drone into Portugal and then to get it flying?

Phil: I have never had any issues with getting my drone into the USA, Turkey or Europe, so far. I have had an issue going from Sydney to Melbourne, though! In Nazaré there is meant to be a permit system, but no one has ever been asked for a permit to my knowledge and most days there are jet fighters flying extremely low across the coastline. The Mayor of Nazaré is a big surf fan and can see how much money now comes into his town during the winter. The beach there has no facilities, no infrastructure, is a bit of a wild frontier at the moment, which works out well for everyone. The beach is not a place the local people like to go. It’s a place of very bad juju for them, which is a longer story…

Phillip George drones
Aussie big-wave riders Mick Corbett (left) and Ross Clarke-Jones (right) – Phil in the middle –  Nazaré Beach in the background
Phillip George drones
View from North House AL, Nazaré Portugal
DroneAdvice: Do you have any advice or tips for artists or other creative professionals who might want to integrate a drone into projects they might be working on?

Phil: The drone space is one that is changing very quickly. I feel that there will be many systems and innovations that will be game-changers, but you need to continually do your research. Also – ask yourself – do I need to take the time to become a confident drone pilot? Would it be more effective to hire a pilot? Sydney and Australia have so many restrictions on where you can fly that it is difficult to get the necessary air-time needed to become a confident pilot. I think I have more air-time outside the country than within.

* You can get in touch with Phil via his web page.

Thanks for reading!

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Photos by Phillip George, unless stated otherwise.