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Renée Lusano
Photography Renée Lusano

The girl taking drone selfies around the world

‘I travel, take pictures, fly a drone and sometimes am a hotdog’ – Renée Lusano is capturing the world from a drone's perspective

Forget your conventional selfie stick. Renée Lusano is trailblazing ahead with the ‘dronie’, using #furbythedrone to explore virtually unvisited locations. Following her recent tour to Chernobyl, Moscow and Kiev, meet the photographer adding a new dimension to global travel photography.

LA-based creative Renée Lusano is shunning the drone's usual implications for a wholly creative new use. With 18.6k Instagram followers to date, her account is a celebration of place rather than self: Lusano's dronies capture some of the most breathtaking locations on earth from a whole new aerial perspective. 

Lusano bought her first drone in early 2014, when owning one was still relatively unheard of. After seeing someone flying one in LA, she became fascinated by the technology and “how it moved through the air unlike anything I had seen before”. The photographer noticed a gap in their use: of the few people flying drones, hardly anyone was creating images with them. This inspired her to start playing with taking photos and videos, using a mobile phone camera duct taped to her drone and uploading the resulting images to Instagram. Ever since, she's strapped her GoPro to a succession of four drones, each inheriting the name Furby after the cute 90s robot, as she thought its personality was apt. 

“I didn’t originally plan to visit Ukraine when I planned my trip to Moscow, but I have always been interested in Chernobyl since the 90s when I was a kid and would hear about the need for aid following the disaster. I was hesitant at first - about the recent political conflicts in Ukraine, and about the lingering radiation in Chernobyl.” Lusano's images follow her tour around the disaster's exclusion zone as she was led by guide Misha Teslenko, a 25 year-old Ukranian who had grown up at its edge, his life directly shaped by Chernobyl's history. “There are just so many layers to the experience of visiting Chernobyl. It's desolate and it is beautiful. The abandoned Soviet buildings are really interesting to explore, so many personal belongings remain within the buildings and they remain frozen in the year 1986.” 

“It is a sad story about lives lost and lives displaced, about a series of human errors whose effects the place will not recover from for a million years”– Renée Lusano

Her images document a site that barely any other lens has visited before. “Our guide would use his radiation detector to bring our attention to various places where very high levels of radiation remain, and the higher levels of radiation being in a particular place would tell a story about the days following the nuclear disaster in 1986. It is a sad story about lives lost and lives displaced, about a series of human errors whose effects the place will not recover from for a million years.”

It would be difficult not to be hard-hit by the raw desolation Lusano experienced, her images speaking volumes about the aftermath, captured on just a one-day visit. “The environmental, economic and human devastation is difficult to fathom.” Lusano puts her greatest experiences down to trusting in locals' advice when she travels. So in Chernobyl, when Lusano asked where an epic place would be to fly her drone, her guide Misha knew just the spot. After driving way out into the middle of the woods, he brought her to a massive metal structure. “It was a defunct Soviet antenna built in the 70s, and it looked like something from the distant past or future. I climbed as high up as I could and flew my drone to capture shots of the structure and surrounding forest. It was so rewarding to be able to show Misha this place which to him is so familiar, but from a completely new perspective.” 

With restrictions on drones becoming tighter in the United States, Lusano is driven more than ever to explore distant and remote places. With Tokyo and Thailand already on the itinerary for the coming months, Lusano has set her sights even further afield. “I would like to visit more places like Chernobyl with an important story that I can share through my images. I would most like to visit Antarctica to document the beautiful and unfortunately changing landscape there.”

Watch this space for Furby 4's next epic flight.

Follow Renée's travels on Instagram at @wrenees and on her blog