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The Earth from the Air Hardcover – 1 Nov 2002
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|Hardcover, 1 Nov 2002||
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French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand and his devoted team have spent five years putting together this voluminous gallery, selecting 195 images from 100,000 photographs taken from helicopters in the skies over 75 countries. It is a staggering achievement and precisely shows how vaguely we know our world. Statistics play a secondary, but vital, role; the text that accompanies the shots (a paragraph each, with a short essay adorning every chapter), highlights the degree to which we have abused our Eden, providing a sobering adjunct to what can at times be mistaken for a planetary holiday brochure. Of primary concern, however, are the pictures. Almost every plate is double page, reproduced in sumptuous vibrant colour, with helpful fold-out notes for each shot. The standard is a visual treat but, damn it, books should be luxurious sometimes. Huge African cotton bales become cauliflowers, logs floating down the Amazon are nothing more than matchsticks, the extraordinary contours of Turkey's Cappadocia are more like lunarscapes and South African sea-lions gathered to mate eerily echo an earlier crowd of curious humans in Côte D'Ivoire. In contrast, a solitary human figure frequently gives perspective to a shot, though occasionally superfluously, for the obliquity of perception can add resonant depth, reducing mighty river courses to glistening snail trails. Much on show is conventional, exceptional landscape photography, but Arthus-Bertrand also trains his lens on our fingerprints smudging the idyll, such as the depressingly overcrowded shanty towns, favelas of Rio de Janeiro or the sprawling communal rubbish heap of Mexico City. However, the hovering eye, like a benevolent celestial deity, cannot help but impose a fragile beauty even on these blights, reclaiming the scarring chaos from its despoilers and harnessing the sense of mortal finitism necessary for a solution of ecological sustained development to be convincingly reached. Arthus-Bertrand's desire to take his art "beyond the anecdotal", to give his subject the space in which to impose its own beauty, allows a gleefully conspiratorial voyeurism, at once empowering and humbling, that at its best captures something quasi-religious in its intense calm. As Louis Armstrong once growled, what a wonderful world. --David Vincent
This text refers to the first edition.
'Breathtaking glimpses of life on our planet' - The Times 'A picture book on an altogether higher plane' - The Sunday Telegraph 'Stunning' - The Irish TimesSee all Product description
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The use of double page spreads almost exclusively is visually awkward in a book you cannot actually lay flat, and the focal point of many images lies directly in the fold. There are many images that are 'written off' purely through poor layout in the book, and for a book of this price (and images of this merit) I expect better. There is some justification in that the images are well ordered and plenty of good background detail given, but this is a book that presents the images, and adequate presentation of these images must be paramount, ahead of all other concerns. I concede that the images will be secondary to many, but I feel this is marketed as a book of photos, and hence these must take precedence.
I only write this as it is such a waste, the images themselves are extraordinary, I feel a sense of frustration that common sense couldn't prevail and images could not have been kept to one page or arranged in a less damaging manner. The more I look through the book the angrier I get, as so many images are impaired in this way. The fact that the images are so good is really the cause of my anger - I keep thinking of 'what could have been', and how simple it could have been to achieve it.
If the French version does indeed use single page images (as suggested in an earlier review), I would urge everyone who is interested to seek out a copy of that instead, the images deserve far better presentation than has been implemented here.
I cannot state strongly enough, the images are very good. Unfortunately I must include the caveat that questionable production has severely dented their impact.