For German photographer Bernhard Lang, the realisation of what style of images he wanted to craft hit him while staring out the window of a passenger plane. Like most, one element of flying the photographer always looked forward to was the opportunity to gaze out at the vistas below, particularly on a journey from Frankfurt to Tokyo where he was “captivated by snowy abstract landscapes” over Siberia, and on another flight to South Africa where he spotted “the vast deserts sceneries of the Sahara”.
This was around 12 years ago now, and the image of “these sceneries from 10,000 meters above was very impressive and breathtaking for me,” and a memory he couldn’t shake. “I recognised structures, patterns and shapes in these landscapes, which sometimes reminded me of abstract paintings. As a photographer, my aim developed to try and capture these aerial views with my camera, by myself,” beginning his ongoing project, Aerial View in 2010.
Over the past nine years or so, Bernhard has stuck with this perception-shifting subject matter, photographing everywhere from the Mojave Desert in north America to the iconic tulip fields in the Netherlands. However, it’s his most industrial-leaning subjects which caught our eye, in particular, his photographs of fish farms off the coast of Greece and, most recently, the solar power plants covering vast spaces in the United States.
Each of these subjects are initially chosen when Bernhard is “trying to find scenes which are visually interesting,” he explains. “It could be because of the graphic shapes and structures, as in the Solar Power Plants series, but the colours and the environment should also be interesting,” he points out referencing how when photographing the solar plants, he was interested “in the contrast of the blue mirrors to the sand-coloured desert floor.” Aside from the eye-opening aesthetic qualities of Bernhard’s photographs, each and every series links to an overarching theme which guides his photographic output, finding “places covering global and environmentally relevant issues.”
As you can imagine, the actual planning of these photographic series “takes much more time than the shooting itself,” Bernhard tells us. At first, he’ll begin with location scouting, before tackling permit requests, helicopter research and booking, elaborating flight plans as well as briefing talks with pilots, and, of course, checking the weather. But once the checklist of must-have planning is ticked off and it comes to the actual shoot day itself, “I am usually full of pleasant anticipation,” says the photographer.
After ascertaining that all of his equipment is in check – Bernhard flies with a medium format digital camera, “with a high-resolution chip inside to be able to do museum quality large-scale fine art prints, and thereby to differ from the minor chip resolution of consumer drones" – he’ll head to the heli-airport and discuss the plan with the pilot so, when in flight, all he has to do is photograph. “During the flight, I am very focused on photographing,” he tells us, a surprising statement considering the fact that he takes his photographs out of the open door of the helicopter…
Following the shoot day, Bernhard will spend the entirety of the next day reviewing his images, an equally exciting part of the process for the photographer. “It reminds me a bit of former pre-digital times,” replicating that sense of not seeing the photographs until they’re back from the developing lab, because during the flight he’s hardly got time to browse through the camera roll.
Once published, Bernhard explains that how audiences react to his photographs often depends on the subject at hand. Some may be captivated by his series’ sheer visual sensibilities, but others may be fascinated by the context of the solar plants series and its relation to global warming, for example. Either way, each of Bernhard’s individual photographs, and subsequent series, present a fascinating back story that leaves the plenty for the viewer to interpret.
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