WASHINGTON – The images are taken from the open doors of a helicopter,with the camera almost parallel to the scene on the ground.
“There is no risk of falling down,” photographer Robert Hass assured an audience at the National Geographic Society this week “The most critical aspect of aerial photography is the ability to reach the inaccessible.”
“Through the Eyes of the Gods: An Aerial Vision of Africa” is the documentation of images made by photographer Haas as he crossed Africa in a helicopter. He said he wore two belts that kept him safely inside during flights.
The book is Haas' fifth about Africa.
Haas,originally from Cleveland,Ohio,is the chairman of an investment firm in Dallas.
Photography is his parallel career. He took his first shot when he was 21 and since 2002,has been taking aerial photographs of Africa.
“I went into this without any artistic talent or any technical talent,” he said.
Haas used film to shoot the pictures and said that his work is very non-technical. He said that he use no manual settings,instead turning on all the automatic settings available on his cameras.
Haas said he is switching over to digital for a trip to Argentina and Chile in December.
In 2002,he also won a Special Recognition Award from the United Nations Environment Programme and the WILD Foundation for his contributions on behalf of endangered species and the environment.
He said Africa inspired him “to shot images that are timeless,that could have been taken thousand of years ago,and images of animals that are struggling to survive.”
The images are accompanied by the author's essays based on his journal,written during the three years he took to shoot the pictures.
He told an audience at the NGS auditorium that after some years of ground photography,he decided to change the angles of his lens. He started shooting from a helicopter. When the pilot asked him what it looked like,Haas said he answered,“You know,it looks like we are looking through the eyes of God.”
And from Haas' first aerial photographic impression came the idea for his book's title.
Haas said that aerial photography gives him the sense of an explorer who has to select from images that have seldom or never been captured before.
He said that aerial photography requires using imagination “because you experience images that do not have a lot of reference points in your mind.” He explained that he related images seen from the air to familiar shapes on the ground.
The shapes of a necklace or a dragon are immediately identifiable in some of Haas' pictures,although readers would hardly guess that the images are actually fish traps in South Africa and stream branches at low tide in Senegal.
The pictures also reveal familiar figures in the desert,such as the African map shaped in a sand dune. Haas said that it was one of the most pleasurable surprises of his experiences,as he was not expecting to get novelties from the desert.
In contrast,he found abstract images formed in the dunes compound by sand,air and light.
“The desert was designed to be viewed by the air,” he said,reporting his discovery of abstract images.
Aerial photography also permitted Haas to take pictures from perspectives that highlight the shadows of the animals. He explained that if he was taking the picture from the ground,the bodies of the animals would probably block their shadows.
From the helicopter,Haas took a picture of a line of camels which,he said “are much more graceful and aesthetic in their shadows.”
Haas said that aerial photography permits him to capture new angles on old subjects. The photographer has to be highly instinctive to choose what he is going to shoot among many unusual images,he said.
“I realized that in aerial photography you are literally making the decisions in a blink of an eye,” he said “Basically,I don't over think the shot.”
His book will be published in 14 other countries. Haas just returned from the International Book Fair in Germany,where he had his work exhibited. Next week,Haas starts a 12-day trip to Japan,Greece,Hungary and Slovenia to promote the book.
Photographs from “Through the Eyes of the Gods” are on exhibit at the National Geographic Museum here until Jan. 25. There is also an exhibit at the African American Museum in Dallas until Nov.13 and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York from Nov. 5 to Jan. 11.