For the past few decades, geologist-turned-photographer Bernhard Edmaier has been pairing his knowledge of rocks and climate with his gimlet eye for an arresting landscape, to produce perhaps the greatest body of aerial photography the world has ever seen. Despite their artistic merit, his shots have tended to have been organised around their geological or geographical features. Now, the raw pigments of Edmaier's shots have been ordered by Phaidon in a new book called EarthArt.
Divided into colour-themed chapters – blue, green, yellow, white etc. – this book offers an incredibly dynamic view of our planet, from the Siberian permafrost to the Bahamas seas, by way of glaciers, mountains, forests and rivers. In letting the colours, rather than the content, organise EarthArt, the book's editor, Alex Stetter, believes Phaidon has allowed the quality of Edmaier's archive to shine through. Read on to hear Alex explain how Edmaier shot these incredible, breathtaking images, where his ecological sympathies lie, and why a picture of a Siberian permafrost is a good way to 'put a face to a name.'
Bernhard Edmaier studied geology before switching to photography. Does he approach image making with a geologist's eye, or a photographer's?
An incredible mix of both. Unlike most of us, he knows where spectacular geography lies. When he's out flying to shoot images, he understands which countries are worth visiting, and when. I wouldn't know what to expect on the border where Bolivia meets Chile. Yet Bernhard knows that what you see are fantastically multicoloured mountains and lakes that look as if someone has dropped a bucket of paint into the desert. He knows how to find those places, and then isn't scared of getting into a very small plane and photographing them.
We wanted to try something different. We had done a number of books with Bernhard Edmaier before (Earthsong, 2004; Patterns of the Earth, 2007; and Earth on Fire, 2009), which had all be really well received, but all had clear themes – like, say, volcanoes. This one was purely about colour. We went through Edmaier's archive and picked out the most striking examples of the colour spectrum.
And did this turn out to be a good way to organise shots?
Yes, brilliant. You look parts of the world in a different way. The sea can be blue, yet it can be red, or green, or orange, depending on what's in it. And just as not all water is blue, so the yellow chapter contains sand, and natural sulphur deposits, or mountains that are weathering in unexpected ways. The photographs are the real stars here. You can appreciate them without knowing necessarily when and where they were taken.
The pictures bring ecological considerations to mind. Where do Edmaier's sympathies lie?
He prefers to photograph areas untouched by man. As soon as people start moving into a place, they change it. In capturing things now, its like a warning – these are delicate landscapes - they're free from man's interference, for now. If you look carefully in some shots, you might be able to see tiny boat.
Who does this book appeal to?
To expert and amateur photographers but also anyone with a love the planet. Some landscapes are just so removed from the common, urban experience, it just doesn't matter that they may be hard to recognise on the page. It really is awe inspiring, because there's this particularly beautiful shot of something you might have known existed, but you never thought was quite so beautiful.
Which places were, for you, the most astonishingly beautiful?
Areas of permafrost up in Siberia. You'd assume that they would be quite grim, but they actually look like embroidery on a quilt: you've got these little pools in the frost, and these yellow and green dots in the landscape they are absolutely gorgeous. I never thought that Siberia would look like that, and it only looks like that for a few weeks in a year, when the ice melts and plants grow really quickly. It's like putting a face to a name. Oh, Siberia? So there you are. Who knew?