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  • 05.27.14

Aerial Photos Document The Abstract, Beautiful, And Garish Ways Americans Play

Alex S. MacLean captures American leisure from up high.

With summer fast approaching, it’s a pleasure to see our lives summed up by pilot and photographer Alex S. MacLean’s aerial series, Playing, about the dynamic relationship between play and the American landscape.

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MacLean has been documenting the world from the sky for decades, and took these photographs while flying across country. What sparked MacLean’s interest in these aerial views of playgrounds and parks was the many different ways in which humans understand and express play. His photographs show how leisure takes many different spatial forms, adapting for climate and spanning the spectrum from sophisticated and highly regimented spaces (tennis courts, amusement parks) to more informal situations (beaches).


From colorful and complex amusement parks to simple schoolyard playgrounds, MacLean’s photographs create a graphic, abstract, and often painterly representation of modern planning. Unpeopled beach boxes on a yard feel surprisingly lonely, while Kite Surfer, above Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, nods to the beautiful irrelevance of man navigating the power and moods of nature. Free Swim, people in a pool, feels a little otherworldly. Often what comes across, and movingly so, is how detached our style of play feels. It’s a curious takeaway because that detachment is rather disproportionate to the benefits that most people derive from leisure.

MacLean often uses aerial perspectives to help people visualize concepts. He says he finds the aerial play images very metaphorical. “Sports terms like out-of-bounds, foul ball, and home run have integrated into our everyday thinking,” he tells Co.Design. “Play is sort of a reenactment of real life.”

Check out more of MacLean’s work here.

[H/T: Visual News]

About the author

Heba Hasan is a New York-based writer covering art and design. She finds a deep comfort in Buzzfeed quizzes.

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