At first glance, Leah Kennedy’s candy-colored photographs look like toytown landscapes—miniature replicas of our world, identikit houses rowed up in a neat and orderly line. It is only on closer inspection that these small building blocks with figures dotted around them are not models from some parallel, imagined realm: they are breathtaking aerial photographs of our own built environment. Rarely do we consider our daily surroundings from such a distance, and when seen from a bird’s eye perspective, the relationship between man and nature becomes stark and surreal.

Beginnings II © Leah Kennedy

Unlike the mechanical, detached eye of a Google Maps’ satellite view, a top-down perspective that is always accessible to us at the mere tap of a button, Kennedy’s paired-back yet arresting images are carefully composed to draw our attention to our relationship to the land and what we do to it. Choosing to shoot in the wide expanses of the desert, the landscapes often take on the aesthetic of a sketch or blueprint rather than existing, functioning man-made environments, inviting us to imagine the sprawl of what comes next. Lifted up high above street-level, we become surveyors of the traces of our human hand, given the chance to see a step-by-step of our occupation of the environment.

During © Leah Kennedy

But Kennedy’s implacable landscapes are quiet and empty of the bustling human activity that they will later be filled with. With no defined features, no sense of community or clear architectural purpose, these eerie views present nature as a huge blank canvas, constantly ready to be built upon and developed. “Human interaction with the environment creates interesting contrasts, from the early stages of our interactions with land through to the remnants left behind as nature takes back and erodes human interference,” explains Kennedy. With this tension in mind, the Australian photographer is interested in raising the question: What is progress? What does it look like?

Stop © Leah Kennedy