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Yann Arthus-Bertrand, photographer and renowned specialist in aerial imagery, has written a number of books including Earth from Above, a work translated into 24 languages which has sold more than three million copies.
He is also a well-known filmmaker with works such as ‘Home’ which he directed in 2009. His exhibition ‘Earth from Above’ has been travelling to different countries around the world and has been seen by more than 200 million people.
Besides working as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program, he also initiated the Good Planet Foundation. Arthus-Bertrand had a short stay with Capital at the opening of his photographic exhibition in Addis Ababa.
Capital: What is this exhibition about?
Yann Arthus-Bertrand: I have been an activist for a long time. I was always working in nature and environment. In 1992, I decided to do a big project on the planet, it was around the time of the Rio Summit (Earth Summit). The project I did completely changed my life, all the beauty in the different places and the people I met.
Now the exhibition is travelling around the world, it has been seen by more than 200 people. If you look up on the internet, you can also watch a film that I made entitled ‘Home.’ It is a famous film about the environment, it can be seen free. I am always trying to send a message so all my work for the public is free.
Capital: Have you always been interested in photography or did it come later?
Arthus-Bertrand: No at all. My interest in photography came later. I went to Kenya for three years to study lions and I discovered that photography is a tool that can be used to express messages that cannot be done through writing. I always say that the lion was my teacher.
Capital: How many countries have you travelled to when working on the photographs?
Arthus-Bertrand: I am not sure, around 120 or something like that.
Capital: I understand you have taken some pictures in Ethiopia as well. Tell us about them.
Arthus-Bertrand: Yes there are photographs that I took in Ethiopia and they are also featured in the exhibition. In fact, I am finishing a new film entitled ‘Human,’ it will be released by the United Nation this year. The film is about humanity, hate, poverty, and corruption among other things.
In the film I interview people, not famous people but regular people. We mix the interview with the beauty of nature. From Ethiopia,we interviewed poor farmers that are working very hard to feed their families and we incorporate that with the beauty of the country. Ethiopia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world so I was really happy to come here.
Actually, my great grandfather wrote the first book on Ethiopia called ‘A trip in Abyssinia’. So I have a special connection to this country.
Capital: What is the process like to take these photographs and what are the challenges?
Arthus-Bertrand: I take the photographs from a helicopter; it is a good way to take beautiful pictures. The challenging part is to get authorization, after that it is not challenging.
Capital: When taking these photographs in different countries, each place must have taught you a lesson. What has been your experience here?
Arthus-Bertrand: Here in Ethiopia, among the photographs I took is a Caravan in the desert. I was completely amazed by the scenery, it seemed like a scene from the bible. So here it is, a mix between the modern and the old tradition and I love that. I hope the country will not lose that.
Capital: In two words, tell me what message you want your work to transmit to the public.
Arthus-Bertrand: “Bring love.” We are facing a very big thing that humans have never faced before. We are all responsible for climate change. I think the respect for the earth and the environment will come through love; loving ourselves, loving others and loving the life around us. That is what my exhibition tells.