Look at the world from a different vantage point with Overview
Spanning six years and still ongoing, Benjamin Grant’s project takes its name from the view an astronaut has when looking down at Earth from a great height.
- Jyni Ong
- 15 January 2020
With the help of five different satellites and aerial-imagery providers, Overview offers up a different (and rather mesmerising) perspective on life on Earth. The six-year-old project takes its name from a phenomenon well known to astronauts: The Overview Effect. “It refers to the sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view Earth as a whole, from a great distance,” explains the project’s founder, Benjamin Grant. “They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, reflecting on its beauty and fragility all at once.”
For us, the land-dwelling folk who have never even been close to the emptiness of space, The Overview Effect is a far cry from weekends spent on the sofa endlessly scrolling. Those floating above us in zero gravity are looking down from a vantage point that, enviously, “inspires a greater appreciation of Earth’s beauty”, says Benjamin. What’s more, the effect is also known to “increase a sense of connection to all other living beings” and inspire “an unexpected level of emotion”. It’s these feelings that Benjamin is hoping to recreate with the satellite imagery he celebrates through Overview.
The idea behind the awe-inspiring images started out rather unexpectedly, however. “At my first job out of college,” Benjamin says, “I couldn’t figure out why everyone ate lunch by themselves every day.” As an excuse to bring people together, he formed a space club and treated his co-workers to weekly talks on the subject.
For one particularly meaningful talk, which would spur his future career into life, Benjamin decided to discuss satellites. Using a mapping programme to explain how some satellite imagery works, he typed “Earth” into the search tool, hoping to land on a perfectly lovely image of our spherical planet. Instead, the programme took him to Earth, Texas, and instantly, in that moment, “I was astounded by what I saw,” he says. “My screen filled up with a stunning patchwork of green and brown circles, which turns out to be pivot irrigation fields, a frequent sighting in the Midwest where sprinklers water crops in a circular pattern.”
Most importantly, this began an obsession for Benjamin, who soon found himself trawling the internet for new patterns on a daily basis. With a background in photography and painting, once he’d amassed around 40 impressive images, his natural instinct was to do something which allowed others to also gaze in admiration at the images. He built a website with the goal to share one of these images each day, and just like that, Overview was born. Now, with two books under his belt, Benjamin continues to disperse these images via a newsletter, which swiftly sends one of these images to your inbox daily.
With every high-resolution pixel, Overview engages its international audience with a sense of immersion that only really comes with scale. The image-sharing platform works with aerial imagery, as well as cameras attached to planes “to get the best imagery available”, Benjamin explains. “We are able to show people places and things they would never be able to comprehend and understand from the ground,” he continues. And as a matter of fact, these types of images, which immediately trigger a “what is that?” reaction, are Benjamin’s favourites. He cites three examples that do this particularly well: Singaporean tankers, a snapshot of Bolivian deforestation, and the breathtaking Shadegan lagoon in Iran.
Encouraging curiosity and contemplation, the Young Explorer’s Edition of Overview is now available. A bespoke curation of the extensive archive just for kids, the book allows younger folk to explore the images alongside a written narrative. “I never thought deforestation or stories of human impact make for a great bedtime story, but I think this anecdote speaks to the universality and visual appeal of the images that connect viewers of any age,” Benjamin concludes. Satellite images can document the physical changes of a landscape like no other, so by paying further attention to the medium, we can become more aware of the rapidly changing world around us.
GalleryOverview, source imagery © Maxar Technologies
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.