Interview with Yann Arthus Bertrand, internationally renowned aerial photographer

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

How did you first have the idea to take landscape photographs from the sky?
When I was 30, I went for three years with my girlfriend to undertake a study of lions on the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. To make a living, I flew tourists across the Montgolfière reserve. That is where I discovered the view of the earth from the sky -- a view that reveals places that are impenetrable from the ground.

In how many countries has your exposition, “the earth as seen from the sky”, been presented? 
Since 2000, the exposition has been welcomed in more than 80 cities and 40 countries.

Why this initiative?
We organized the first exposition at the Luxembourg garden in Paris, in 2000. After, the idea grew on its own: one person came to see us to organize the same exposition in a city, then another, etc. It is often volunteers who organize the exposition. For the organizers, the constraints are enormous. There are at least 100 very large photographs to be displayed in the street. These photos must withstand wind, rain, and sun, and need to be guarded during the night.

Where does your desire to protect the planet come from? What are your concerns in this regard?
One cannot survey the planet over 20 years and stay the same. I have visited many different countries and met a lot of people, including experts and scientists that have changed my perspective. I have heard, for example, that if the 6 million people ate as much as one French person, it would take three planets like our Earth to support our needs. These numbers, when I fly over the Earth, greatly disturbed me. Image after image transforms me. I hope that my photos will have an impact on others. I was a convinced ecologist, and I am becoming a determined humanist.

How are you able to contribute to disaster prevention?
Photographing the effects of disasters and damaged sites enables me to raise public awareness. The more people are mobilized, the more public opinion may have an impact on decision makers. We must not forget the fact that the dams breaking in New Orleans could have been prevented. As more and more people live in favellas on the hills in Rio, they become more vulnerable to mudslides. In France, one commune in three is at risk from flooding. One could cite dozens of examples.

Why are you collaborating with ISDR?
Because the work of the ISDR is indispensable. We must prevent disasters before they happen and reduce their impact.

What is your message?
Natural hazards are a risk to us all. We must all be prepared, wherever we live, because one day we might have to face a natural hazard.

You recently went to photograph the US, and to Asia after the tsunami, how did you find this experience?
Very sad and very humbling: we are very small in the face of Nature. The landscape is also very vulnerable in the face of a tsunami, a cyclone, or a flood.

From the sky can you see that humans take up a lot of space on Earth?
On the contrary, one can see that humans take very little space on Earth. But when we know the pressure that they exert on Nature, the amount of space that we take, the deforestation, the destruction of the oceans…one can see that our imprint is everywhere on Earth.

What would you say to governments?
They must act quickly. They must make decisions and stick to their promises. Sustainable development makes common sense. It is not a question of politics, right or left wing, it is the only way for the future.

Do you think that the US can do something?
I do not know if they will, but they must do something.

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