Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009

Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Sometimes it takes a little distance to see the big picture. Soaring high above the earth, Yann Arthus-Bertrand takes aerial photographs that offer an intoxicating perspective on our world. Seas and cities, deserts and deltas, mountains and marshes — they all seem to bloom majestically, revealing colors, hidden textures and the mesmerizing patterns of nature.

But the photographs also act as something of a visual ecology lesson, carrying within them an implicit — or even sometimes very obvious — warning: our planet is fragile and threatened by ominous forces. To overcome pollution, deforestation and climate change, explains Frenchman Arthus-Bertrand, will require concerted action from we humans, the ones looking down on all this.

Arthus-Bertrand, 63, began shooting from the sky three decades ago. His first photographs, of the lions he was studying in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve, were taken from hot-air balloons. He also uses light aircraft and helicopters. His UNESCO-backed "Earth from Above" project has been seen by more than 120 million people as a touring exhibition; as a lavish coffee-table book it has sold more than 3 million copies in 24 different languages.

This year his movie Home carries his message even wider. Shot in 54 countries, it was shown mostly free of charge around the world, in open-air screenings as well as in theaters, and on TV, DVD and the Internet. Arthus-Bertrand estimates some 200 million people have already seen the film, which merges images from above with a cautionary essay about mankind's treatment of its environment. "I try to show our impact on our planet," he says. "From the air, you can see the earth's wounds."

Many are new traumas, like the outflows of waste from tar-sand extraction in Canada, toxic landfills in Dakar, Senegal, or the passage of an icebreaker through dappled, melting Arctic floes. Arthus-Bertrand rages at the desecration — and those who deny it is happening. "We don't realize the incredible imprint of man," he says. "Sure, life is good now. But we are exhausting our resources. There's not enough fish, not enough wood, not enough land. We have to do better with less."

'I don't want to give just one tip, because that could make you close your mind. But we have to live with less. Less food, less meat, less fuel, less shopping.' — Yann Arthus-Bertrand