Tuesday, March 17, 2009

African Air by George Steinmetz

When a photographer has a perceptive eye, there is really not a need for many words. In African Air, a beautiful new volume of aerial photographs from across Africa, National Geographic and GEO photographer George Steinmetz quietly shows us much about the grand and struggling continent. Images of natural wonders butt up against scenes of human poverty and environmental degradation. After viewing these 119 photographs, readers maywant both to go to Africa as a tourist and to send aid.

How stunning are the photographs? They compare well with many of the images from the popular television series Planet Earth. As in the nature documentary, Steinmetz took many of his pictures from a motorized paraglider, the motor strapped to his back. In the paraglider he could hover quietly one hundred feet above a herd or rise thousands of feet over a valley or lake to get unusual views. The resulting photographs are both eye-popping and informative.

Steinmetz has been photographing Africa since 1979 when he took some time off from college. In the introduction, he recounts his many adventures, some of which seem ill-advised. Parents will not want their children following his lead. Still, it makes awfully good reading, so don't just look at the pictures. Steinmetz also includes several short personal essays among photos.

Many of the photographs date from his National Geographic assignment to supplement the journal's report about the African transect by Mike Fey in 1999. The most magical images often seem to comes from the Sahara. I particularly liked his photos of camels in caravans.

Not many libraries have this attractive book yet. I recommend it.

Steinmetz, George. African Air. Abrams, 2008. ISBN 9780810984035

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