A photographic portrait of the planet to savour

Story by Jack Foley

The gardens of The Natural History Museum are currently playing host to a free photographic exhibition, entitled Earth from the Air - A Photographic Portrait of Our Planet, by celebrated French aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

The astonishing photographic project, which can be now be viewed until further notice, is described as a visual record of the state of our planet today and boasts some truly jaw-dropping photographs of our planet - from the statue of Christ in Rio, to England's own Stonehenge, or the caravan of dromedaries, near Nouakchott (pictured above).

The exhibition has taken 10 years of research and fieldwork to produce, in which time Arthus-Bertrand has taken over 100,000 shots and clocked up more than 3,000 flying hours, travelling across 100 countries. The images, all aerial photographs, capture the characteristics and patterns of the natural world which can only be seen from a bird's-eye view.

Earth from the Air marks the Natural History Museum's first outdoor exhibition and includes 150 images - each over two metres across - as well as a giant walk-on map of the world.

With great consideration to Arthus-Bertrand's vision for the exhibition, the stunning photographs will be presented making use of the natural light and open space of The Natural History Museum's east garden.

The exhibition has been staged in 42 cities since it was first shown in 1999 and part of its success is that it is always free to view and presented in open-air venues, making it easily accessible to everyone.

So far, 10 million people have see Earth from the Air and Arthus-Bertrand is justifiably proud of that.

Speaking in an interview posted on the official exhibition website (click on right hand link, above, to access it), the celebrated photographer said: I’m very happy to have invented a new way to show photographs.

" You know at the beginning, a few years ago, when I was trying my exhibition in Paris, it was very difficult to find a museum or gallery to put on the show. So, instead, my team found somewhere to put it - outside, on the railings of the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris. It was a success. It was incredible, because by putting photographs in the street I could reach people who would never go into a museum or a gallery. We had created a new way of presenting photography. I’ve been so surprised how it’s worked."

The exhibition has a narrative accompanying each photograph and Arthus-Bertrand hopes this combination will inspire people to care about the planet and it’s eco-system.

"I’m trying to explain that everything is connected: insects, earth, trees. We’re all connected. And if we change this balance we put mankind in danger," he continued.

"Why has Earth from the Air made an impact? I don’t know. I think we’ve worked hard to make sense of what we do. The pictures are easy to understand. You don’t need any artistic knowledge to understand my photographs."

The Earth from the Air project has been a huge operation, involving flights over 100 countries. Often flying low and close up to his subjects, Yann captured the details and patterns he found on the ground, whether natural or man-made. From his aerial viewpoint, the images presented a unique perspective of life on Earth.

"Usually aerial photography is very high, like satellite images…or pictures are taken on the ground. I am in between. You see a lot of people in my photographs. What I am trying to show is that it’s not nature on one side and man other side. Nature and man are the same thing. Even when I’m flying in a city, it’s still part of the world. So, when I’m flying over New York, it’s like when I’m in a forest."

The aerial technique required a team of people in support of Arthus-Bertrand. As well as staff to organise the logistics for travelling to remote locations, there were scientific researchers and local guides needed to help select and locate the places he wanted to visit.

The tremendous effort which went into getting the project (quite literally) off the ground has certainly paid off. Earth from the Air is a must-see for anyone who shares a passion for the planet. It really makes a trip to the Natural History Museum a must for photography fans this summer.

GUIDE TO PICTURES: Top picture - Mauritania. Caravan of dromedaries near Nouakchott.
In Mauritania, as in all the countries bordering on the Sahara, the dromedary is the domestic species best adapted to the arid environment. Known as 'the ship of the desert', it can go without water for long periods, even for several months in winter if it is on good grazing land. In summer, however, the heat and exertion are such that it can only survive for a few days without drinking
(albeit in conditions in which a human being would die of dehydration within 24 hours). The reserves of fat in its single hump provide the animal with both energy and water. Other unique adaptations allow it to conserve body water and it can, for instance, withstand excessive increases in body temperature without sweating. In Mauritania, the Moors rear the dromedary for its milk and meat as well as for its leather and wool. At the end of the 1990s, the country's dromedary population was said to number about one million.

Pic 2 - Australia. Queensland. White Haven Beach at high tide.
Whitsunday Island is one of the 74 islands of the Whitsunday Island group off the East Coast of Australia. The island owes its name to Whit Sunday 1777, the day Captain Cook reached the archipelago. Today it is uninhabited, but Aborigines appear to have lived there from the beginning of the Neolithic period, when sea level was lower and the island was still part of the mainland. White Haven Beach, fringed with mangroves, has sand of a rare quality: at 98 percent silica, it is said to be the purest in the world. The few swimmers who visit (tourism is strictly controlled) rub shoulders with manta rays, saltwater crocodiles, turtles, and schools of dolphin. The islands are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which stretches for 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) along the Australian coast. About 20 percent of the reef's coral have been damaged by growing numbers of a species of starfish, a fierce predator. In fact, almost all the world's coral is in poor health, which is gradually leading to a loss of biodiversity in the surrounding waters - a process similar to desertification on land.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Click here for further, bigger pictures, from the exhibition....
All images ©Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Top left button, Natural History Museum official website
Top right button, Earth from the Air official site.