Things look different from a few thousand feet above the ground. Coral reefs, cultivated fields, and sea-swept dunes array themselves into intricate designs with colors that rival the most energetic abstract paintings. Planes in an airfield and birds in flight exhibit geometric precision, while clusters of skyscrapers and rock outcroppings seem to grow chaotically before our eyes.
From the vantage point of a helicopter, French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand has spent 15 years capturing thousands of such scenes in more than 75 countries.
He's shared hundreds of them with the world in his Earth From Above books and traveling exhibits, which combine environmental activism and art to create his "photographic portrait of our planet." By presenting natural and human-made landscapes without distinction, Arthus-Bertrand's photos show how small we are in the grand scheme of things — and what a big impact we can have.
Seen through Arthus-Bertrand's ecumenical eye, the sinuous line of a suburban street evokes the soothing rhythm of a river. The buildings we construct, the art we create, the communities we form find echoes in unexpected places. In their cold grandeur or their glorious color, their closeness or their isolation, Arthus-Bertrand reveals how we strive, consciously or not, to emulate the natural world. "The earth is art," he says. "The photographer is only a witness." — Jennifer Hattam
Click on the thumbnails below to see the full-size photos.
Mauritania: Caravan of dromedaries near Nouakchott
Rajasthan, India: Cotton fabrics drying in the sun in Jaipur
Quebec: Fall forest in the Charlevoix region
Mali: Dogon village near Bandiagara
Cape Province, South Africa: seals near Duiker Island
Florida: Mangroves in Everglades National Park
Florida: Houses near Miami
About the Earth From Above Project
Since 1990, photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand has flown over dozens of countries, capturing aerial images that, as he puts it, "invite each of us to reflect on Earth's evolution and the future of its inhabitants." A devoted environmentalist, he asked us to include the preceding captions and the following message with his work:
"Now more than ever, we are consuming and exploiting natural resources in ways that are not sustainable in the long run. Total production of goods and services has increased sevenfold since 1950, but living standards in much of the world have not kept pace. Currently 20 percent of the earth's population has no access to safe drinking water, 25 percent have no electricity, and 40 percent have no sanitary infrastructure.
"While inhabitants of industrialized countries consume and produce in excess — and generate massive pollution — four-fifths of the world's people live in developing countries and, for the most part, in poverty. To provide for their needs, they, too, make heavy demands upon Earth's natural resources.
"At this critical stage, we need to create and implement alternative methods of development. The mandate set out in 1987 by the United Nations' World Commission on Environment and Development still holds true today: We must 'meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' For the future of our children, we can and must act individually to bring about the necessary changes on a daily basis."