Earth From Above
Yann Arthus-Bertrand's Global Vision

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Author of over 60 books, photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand's latest is Earth From Above. We recently talked with him about his work and the ecological issues facing us as we begin to navigate through the 21st century.

Shutterbug: Though you're the author of dozens of successful books, Earth From Above has seemed to draw special attention to your work.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Earth From Above is first and foremost an idea, that of sensitizing people to both the beauty of our planet and also its frailties. I do not feel I am the sole author of these pictures. I just feel I managed to capture a certain reality at a time when it is especially important.

SB: My favorite image in the book is the islet in the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines, because it makes me appreciate the immensity of the oceans and also my own relative insignificance. From how many photos did you select those that made it to the final version? How difficult was the selection process?

YAB: We selected from about 5000 photos in total. Being a good photographer, of course, is also being able to recognize that this picture is good and that other one is, well, not so good. Learning to photograph is one thing; developing a critical eye for your own work is another. It may be the most difficult thing to learn.

SB: One of the quotes from the book reads, "It is essential that we find a way to make humans more attentive to the Earth as well as to all of the Earth's residents, present and future." How do you feel we're faring in this respect?

YAB: Things are getting better, though we still have a long way to go. In the media, there are few days when an environmental topic is not discussed. Natural disasters are more and more frequent and affect more and more people. This has made us sensitive, particularly to global warming and the climactic changes it entails. In the written press, in bookstores, there are more and more articles, special issues, books of all sorts discussing how urgent it is to move to sustainable development of our societies and become capable of meeting the needs of all of humankind while leaving a welcoming Earth to our children. But the work to be done is still vast. In our daily lives there's a vital need to modify our consumption habits. Ultimately these decisions depend on political movement, but it will be the mobilization of each of us that will spur to action those with influence.

SB: What current projects are you working on?

YAB: The Earth From Above exhibitions are going on around the world and opening up to developing countries. I'm trying to organize an expo for those countries that don't always have the means to finance a complete outdoor exhibition. We're also working on opening the show to blind people using relief mockups of the pictures. In addition, there is a new children's book out, L'avenir de la Terre: le développement durable expliqué aux enfants (The Future of the Earth: sustainable development as explained to children), which is dear to me. Children are the future and it's critical that we make them aware of the major issues facing us in this century. The Earth From Above pictures and their associated texts are becoming available in CD-ROM format. I'm also doing a book on horses of the world. I've been working on this for many years and it is close to my heart. A publishing house in France is doing a biography on me called Être photographe (To be a photographer). I've started a project called "Photographers for a Photographic Project," or "3P," whose goal is to collect renowned photographers' editions and auction them off to finance photographic journalistic reporting. Finally--but not least important--are two other projects I'm developing. The first, called "Faces and Landscapes," involves visiting locations photographed in Earth From Above to talk to the people who live in these places about their existence: their struggles, their hopes, their dreams, their regrets. The second is to create a sustainable development center in Paris in collaboration with WWF France that would include an exhibition organized specifically for children and teen-agers.

SB: What are three pieces of advice you would give aspiring photographers?

YAB: One: develop a good knowledge of the field and your craft. Become as good as you can be. Two: become an assistant to a photographer whose style you like. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can from him or her. Third: know what you want to photograph--have a main project. And I would add a fourth: don't take yourself too seriously.

"Earth From Above" is published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. and is available through the publisher's website (www.abramsbooks.com) and major bookstores across North America.

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