One Determined Photographer
Many people dream of having a job that involves adventure in exotic locales, but few are able to make it a reality. As a exploratory photographer for such publications as National Geographic, GEO, Life and The New York Times Magazine, George Steinmetz is living the dream and we had the pleasure of catching him with his feet on the ground to talk with us about his new book, AFRICAN AIR, which represents nearly 30 years of work photographing the landscape and people of Africa.
The photographs in African Air are stunning and something that no one has ever seen before, because most of the aerial photographs in this book were taken from the harness of a motorized paraglider, the smallest aircraft on earth, somewhere between 500 and 6,000 feet above the ground. The experimental aircraft (essentially a parachute-style wing with a back-pack motor) allows George to get aerial views of remote places that would be impossible any other way. He takes off and lands by running on an area about the size of a basketball court.
How has the African Landscape changed over the last 30 years?
“The rural areas, you won’t find that much change, but the urban areas are growing. Like Nairobi has a suburb now. It’s like a slum that’s about a million strong. It’s kids who were educated in rural areas who came to the city to find work and they couldn’t find much” said Steinmetz. “I was just in Libya last week and they’re doing massive irrigation projects to try and green-ify the desert. And in other areas the desert is advancing and they’re losing trees.”
“You know, I think Africa has kind of a bad rap in that regard. Ninety-five percent of the people in Africa are doing just fine, but that really doesn’t sell newspapers. What makes newspapers is what’s going on in Darfur or genocide in Rwanda. I was in Rwanda a few years ago and I had a tremendous experience. The country is very calm and peaceful and people are very generous and things were fine,” Steinmetz explained.
George Steinmetz’s photographs and his paraglider (which he describes as “a big leaf blower with a propeller, held aloft by a kite”) will be featured in an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2009.
I’m recommending that you check out his website here with a warning. I spent more than an hour pouring over his photographs of Africa, Antarctica, China and the Tree People of Indonesian New Guinea.
You will be as fascinated as I was.