An article by Tan Cheng Li, The Star.

FOR over 40 years, Yann Arthus-Bertrand has photographed the Earth from where few have – from way up high. From this vantage point, he has given us amazing views of the planet. But he has also seen it change, felt its fragility, and witnessed the imprints left by man.

Which is why he is on a crusade to reshape man’s perception of Earth, in the hope that they will change their destructive habits which are wounding the planet.

“From the air, the planet is a piece of art. Each time I fly, I’m amazed at the beauty of the planet but appalled at the impact of man on it,” Arthus-Bertrand said at a press conference held in Manado, Sulawesi, in mid-June.

Though he started out as a photographer, Arthus-Bertrand is today better known as an eco-activist. His documentaries and books all serve to encourage environmental awareness. The aerial shots from his 1999 book The Earth From Above and subsequent exhibitions worldwide enabled us to see the Earth like never before.

His landmark 2009 film, Home, gave us not only spectacular bird’s-eye views of the landscapes that shape our planet but also scenes of how human habitation has destroyed nature. In 2011, he directed two films for the United Nations: Forest, to mark the 2011 International Year of the Forest, and Desertification.

In 2012, Planet Ocean, about the beauty and importance of the habitat that covers two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, premiered at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“My purpose was to show the beauty of the oceans, their diversity, their usefulness, and also the threats that hang over them today and the solutions that can be applied. Because mankind is both the cause and the cure for all the problems,” says Arthus-Bertrand, 68.

For his work in inspiring and encouraging action, the United Nations Environment Programme has appointed him its Goodwill Ambassador.

In September, Arthus-Bertrand will start filming a new eco-documentary, Terra.

“It will be about life on the planet and about biodiversity, with a focus on vertebrates. Some 98% of vertebrates is man and domestic animals. The others, such as elephants and birds, are only 2%. Today, it’s difficult to think about nature without putting man in the middle. We are animals and now there is little place left for other animals.”

The film will be aired on Dec 15, 2015, in Paris at the United Nations meeting on climate change. And just like his previous works, the new film will not be copyrighted, and will be available free to all.

Moving into activism

As a teenager, Arthus-Bertrand, who comes from a family of Parisian jewellers, dreamt of becoming a film star. He started out as a third assistant director and even acted in several films, but a career in the movies eluded him.

At the age of 20, a love for animals saw him becoming the director of a nature reserve in central France. He moved to Kenya with his wife in the mid-1970s to study the behaviour of lions in the Masai Mara reserve.

There, he picked up photography as part of his survey work. At that time, he was also earning money flying tourists in hot air balloons. The two things came together, flying and photography, and that was how he found his calling as an aerial photographer.

He wrote for various publications, including Géo, National Geographic, Life and Figaro Magazine, and quickly learnt that his pictures could spread awareness of ecological issues and move people to get involved and make a change. He started making films which portray nature in all its glory as well as examine the links between man and nature.

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