Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Being a Photographer

by Harry N.
240 pages,
ISBN: 0810956160

Post Your Opinion
Perspectives by Arthus-Bertrand
by Christopher Ondaatje

Being a Photographer is a book about the extraordinarily versatile French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. The text of the book by Sophie Troubac has been translated from the French by Simon Moore. It is an interesting character study of a determined photographer who broke several barriers with his masterpiece, Earth from Above, published in 1999. That book's first printing of 120,000 copies sold out in a mere two weeks. Today more than two and a half million copies have been sold in a variety of languages and over a hundred of these amazing aerial images have been exhibited on the garden railings outside the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, where they attracted some two million visitors. The exhibition has now been installed in fifty of the world's biggest cities, and it is estimated that at least sixty million people have viewed the images. Photographs in relief have even been included for the blind and partially sighted.
This smaller book does not attempt to duplicate the artistic creation of Earth from Above. However, it does reveal a great deal about the photographer as a person and it includes many of the best aerial images, as well as some of the photographer's earlier African work and his unusually personal portraits. In addition, Being a Photographer includes a remarkable DVD disc directed by Emilio Pacull who had, in his time, been an assistant to directors Costa-Gavras, Roberto Rosellini and Frantois Truffant. Pacull came across Arthus-Bertrand's portraits when he first saw his outdoor exhibition at the Paris Luxembourg Gardens in 2000. This short, simple and complex film is as faithful to Arthus-Bertrand as his photographs are to the earth.
Arthus-Bertrand's adventurous photographic career began in Kenya in 1979 where he followed a pride of lions over a three-year period. He first became fascinated with aerial photography while organising balloon trips for tourists, and eventually that's how he made his name. However, in the twenty years before Earth from Above was published, Arthus-Bertrand started working for travel publications, photographing the Paris-Dakar Rally, tennis players at Roland-Garros, Paris Agricultural Shows, and later did a project on the French for l'Express. His remarkable portraits include breeders with their animals, President Mitterand, prostitutes, plumbers, policemen and bakers, "because it consigns everyone to the same level, and brings out the distinctions in each individual." As a photographer, Arthus-Bertrand does not harbour illusions. Rather he is shaped by them. Purists argue that this is a major flaw, but the reality is that Arthus-Bertrand has somehow managed to extract something unique out of his subjects. It is almost as if he has gouged his fingers into their flesh and then smeared their soul on his canvas. There is something eerily revealing about these earlier studies which are quite different from the dazzling geometrical scenes in Earth from Above. In 1992 a pilot flying over New Caledonia pointed out a clearing in the shape of a heart formed by the Voh Mangrove. It quickly became the emblem of the photographer's projectů"to raise public awareness of the Earth's beauty in order to better condemn its problems." Not everyone likes Arthus- Bertrand's photographs, or even accepts their message, yet "the enthusiasm and emotion they ceaselessly inspire remain unquestioned. There is an intensity and a mystery about them. Such expression testifies to the fact that humanity, in its many different guises, shares a common adventure."
During the 1980s photography went through a revolution. All the leading agencies experienced a crisis from which they may never fully recover. Cartier-Bresson left Magnum, Depardon broke with Gama Riboud, Salgado, Brassai, Doisneau, Boubat, as well as the late Gilles Canon, left the militantly organised photographic world. Colour had begun to establish itself over black-and-white images. Adventure and travel magazines were created and photographers, spurred on by writers and publishers, reported on major world developments. This period introduced the photography of escapism, and penetrated even the most reclusive countries. Arthus-Bertrand explains: "It provided us with an existence. All the photographers of my generation owe these publications a great deal. They gave our work a platform and strengthened our images." He is right. This book by Sophie Troubac, along with Yann Arthus-Bertrand's own commentaries, photographs, notebooks, and the biographical DVD documentary, tells us something about how a tirelessly determined and passionate photographer took advantage of the changing world of photography and photojournalism. It does not recommend a particular path that any young ambitious photographer should take, but it provide an eye- opening lesson on how good packaging and creative merchandising can market and establish a gifted and hard-working photographer.

Christopher Ondaatje is a retired investment banker, an author and a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us