by Paul H. Henning
OVERVIEW: A New Perspective of Earth
by Benjamin Grant
Remember those predictions from half a century ago of a future (as in now) in which we’d all be zipping around in flying cars, taking to the friendly skies en route to work, play or home? That vision of a world where we’d all be driver-pilots has yet to materialize, which is probably just as well, since if grandma can’t parallel park she surely wouldn’t do well with takeoffs and landings. No, we’re all still mostly land-based creatures save for the occasional flight on a commercial airline, which means that images such as those compiled in Benjamin Grant’s Overview still have the power to stun and captivate us.
Inspired by both the iconic “Earthrise” image of a distant blue Earth captured by astronaut Bill Anders while circling the moon on Apollo 8 in 1968, and a short film called Overview that introduced him to the concept of the “Overview Effect” (the emotional sensation astronauts experience when viewing Earth from space), Grant began consuming and stitching together high-quality satellite photographs from DigitalGlobe’s 15-year time-lapse image library. He’s been posting daily “Overviews” on his dailyoverview.com website. This book is a compendium of over 200 of the best from the site that capture man’s built-up world. The images fit into thematic chapters such as “Where We Live,” “Where We Power,” “Where We Move” and five others that sharply contrast with a final “Where We Are Not” section that looks down on portions of earth that remain sans mankind.
Overview is absolute eye candy that anyone, not just picture pros, can appreciate: pick it up at any time, open it to any page and you’ll find highly intriguing, graphic imagery. Almost every page is an eye-stopper, from hyper-density population centers like Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (1 million people) to the relatively wide-open spaces of the shrimp pools on the coast of Sonora, Mexico, which are reminiscent of a DNA strand when viewed from Earth’s orbit.
Some of the visual content in these Overviews is clearly discernable: one can make out the hundreds of retired airplanes, like a collection of miniature toys, spread across the Davis-Monthan Aircraft Boneyard in Tucson, for example, or the geometric and highly engineered highway interchanges in Dubai, L.A. and Jacksonville FL. Other images resemble abstract art a la Piet Mondrian (the Lebrija 1 Solar Power Plant in Spain, for example) or Wassily Kandinsky (the Mount Whaleback Iron Ore Mine in Western Australia). Many of my personal favorites are in “Where We Live,” with its creative depictions of the mass, variety and often geometric spaces that humankind occupies—the villas at Marabe Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, for instance, form a complex circle.
Overview will suck you in: perhaps you’ll just want to kill a little time flipping a few pages and before you know it, you’re turning page after page to see what visual treats are next! So, until we live in the world of George Jetson, Benjamin Grant’s outstanding creations will do nicely.
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE EDGE: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World
by Art Wolfe with Rob Sheppard
In stark contrast to Benjamin Grant’s “eyes,” which hurtle around the globe at an altitude of hundreds of miles, Art Wolfe’s feet are solidly planted on terra firma. On the road three-quarters of the year (“My favorite location is honestly the last place I’ve been.”), his subject matter could be anywhere from his own backyard in Seattle to such far-flung ports-of-call as Antarctica, Botswana or the Qinling Mountains in China.
In the pantheon of professional outdoor/adventure/nature shooters, Art Wolfe is unquestionably one of the top dogs, a veteran assignment shooter, author, TV host and workshop leader who’s pretty much seen and done it all. Photographs from the Edge is a selection of 130 of Wolfe’s “greatest hits” from the beginning of his career in the early 1980s right up through 2015.
The book’s structure is like you’re sitting down with Wolfe and his pal Rob Sheppard (a prolific author himself as well as former editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine) for a good old-fashioned slide show. Each image (many of which are reproduced either full-page or double-trucked) is not only accompanied by extensive and insightful “how I got that shot” commentary by Wolfe, but also comes with nuggets of information about the image’s content as well as “photo tips” from Sheppard. For a picture of tigers feeding on a recently killed sambar, for example, we learn that “the density of the vegetation in India’s national parks is one reason that the tiger has been able to survive in the second-most populated country on the planet.” Of that same image, Sheppard points out that “camera movement during exposure is the number one cause of unsharp photos. It is better to use a higher ISO and a wider f-stop.”
Photographs from the Edge, then, can be consumed on three different levels: for its straight-forward information about the natural world, for pointers on creating better photographs, or simply for the beauty of its often stunning visual content. For me, Photographs from the Edge is similar to Grant’s book in that it’s a gorgeous treat for your eyes. For my money, Wolfe is at his best when he’s either employing his background as a painter to create impressionistic portrayals of nature or using his wide angle lens and natural hutzpah to put the viewer in the middle of the action.
“From a very young age, I knew that I would be an artist,” says Wolfe, and nowhere does that sensibility manifest itself more clearly than in an image of overturned boats he shot relatively early in his career (1987) in Siberia. Shot with a 600mm lens, the tightly compressed image of faded pastels on the boats’ metal hulls “brought to mind Pablo Picasso’s Cubist period,” says Wolfe. Indeed, it’s a gorgeous work of abstract art, with a painterly quality he would return to again and again in the coming years, such as his more literal but equally evocative image of Amazon River dolphins from 2013.
Just as Wolfe takes a broad view of how the natural world should be interpreted by his camera, he seems most at home slapping a wide angle lens on that camera and following the old photographers’ adage, “Keep moving forward until you can’t.” Whether it’s butting his camera against a Weddell seal’s snout, graphically capturing a group of Kecak dancers in Bali from overhead, or using a new-fangled rover vehicle to nail an otherwise impossible shot of lions and cubs from within their midst, Wolfe unfailingly demonstrates a commitment to doing whatever it takes to give viewers a “gee whiz” viewpoint.
In an age when “everyone’s a photographer,” Art Wolfe clearly demonstrates the difference between wanna-bes and true professionals. Maybe everyone is a photographer in the sense of carrying around camera-equipped smartphones, but only a microscopic few individuals on this entire planet have the skill, patience and dedication to brave both the elements of nature and the rigors of travel to bring us the kind of eye-stopping, breathtaking imagery collected in Photographs from the Edge.
Paul H. Henning is the founder cr8vstrategy, a consultancy which advises small creative businesses. Henning also serves as the Director of Business Development for Tetra Images, and is the US rep for BikiniLists, a marketing service which connects creatives with art buyers.