Yann Arthus-Bertrand has made documenting the grandeur and beauty of Earth his life’s work. Born in 1946, the French photographer, film maker, environmentalist and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador started photographing wildlife on a trip to Kenya in the late 1970s, when he spent some time with a pride of lions. Since then, he has worked for Life and National Geographic, and along the way photographed naturalist Dian Fossey and the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
Arthus-Bertrand is best known for his aerial photography – images shot from helicopters and hot-air balloons. With the support of UNESCO, he provided a perspective of our planet that we wouldn’t otherwise see in The Earth from Above, and in 2009, released Home, a documentary showing the glories of the planet from the air and how humanity’s relationship with it is rapidly disrupting its ecological balance.
The UN commissioned Arthus-Bertrand to produce the official film for the launch of the International Year of Forests, Of Forests and Men – a seven-minute montage of the world’s forests from above. The footage shows not only the beauty of forests, but also what we are doing to them.
TUNZA asked Arthus-Bertrand about his relationship with forests and how he feels photography can help preserve the Earth.
TUNZA: Do you spend much time in forests?
Y A-B: My house stands on the edge of a forest where I walk every morning. It is a world of sensations, where all human things seem to disappear. Forests’ tranquillity and beauty, freshness and fertility express something that contributes to my physical and mental well-being. I don’t think I am alone in this. We come from the forest. Humans developed their binocular vision and opposable thumbs in the trees. Perhaps that’s why I feel the need to return to them from time to time, to reconnect. Yet I am aware that the forests around Paris all bear the mark of humanity.
TUNZA: From your perspective, what is the key problem, and solution?
Y A-B: I stopped once near a field in Borneo, where a farmer was cutting a patch of forest. I spoke to him about deforestation, ecosystems and climate change. He said: ‘You come here in your helicopter to teach me a lesson? Me, I’m just working to feed my family.’ Then he invited me on to his wooden boat where his wife was feeding a baby and watching a US television show.
We have created a dream of comfort and consumption, we profited from that dream, we showed it to others, but now we tell them: ‘Sorry, not for you. The planet is in danger.’ So the question is: are we, from the developed countries, going to share? For others to have more, we need to accept having less. And that’s not easy.
We have to change the way we think, so that people ask: ‘Do I have the right to do this? May I live without considering my impact on the environment, on a planet that I share with others?’
TUNZA: What can photography and film do to help efforts to conserve forests?
Y A-B: The beauty of the Earth creates enormous emotion, and through this, one can raise consciousness and pass on knowledge. Each picture of the Earth or its inhabitants aims to show the best in order to appeal to what is best in us. The will to protect is strongest towards what one understands and loves.
TUNZA: What would you say to the world’s young people?
Y A-B: Commitment gives meaning to life. I show it through photography, an architect can demonstrate it by designing a ‘green’ house or an engineer by developing a clean car. Every person can act in his or her own way. What is fundamental is to act.
Visit Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s GoodPlanet.org for photographs, a competition, educational resources on forests, and much more.
See his films online: