WASHINGTON (Sept. 8, 2010)—Celebrated aerial photographer Robert Haas, who transformed overhead vistas of African and Latin American landscapes into captivating, panoramic canvases, now turns his lens to the Arctic region in a new book from National Geographic publishing this fall.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE VIKINGS: An Aerial Vision of Arctic Lands (National Geographic Books; ISBN: 978-1-4262-0638-2; Sept. 21, 2010; $50 hardcover) showcases more than 100 spectacular and utterly unfamiliar views of Arctic lands and waterways. Haas spent three years crisscrossing the Arctic Circle, flying more than halfway around the globe, across the icy tips of seven countries — Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and the United States — and through 14 time zones to capture breathtaking aerial images that celebrate the timeless beauty and startling diversity of these far northern climes.
Haas’s photographs shatter our preconceived notions about a barren Arctic landscape — inviting us instead into a world of incredible variety with a palette of brilliant colors. With their unique airborne perspective, the images are at once deeply intimate and strangely abstract. Leaning from open doors of helicopters and small planes, Haas captures patterns in the land and its wildlife that only emerge from above — caribou trails cut designs in the Alaskan tundra; cracked ice in a frozen Norwegian mountain pond morphs into a gigantic snowflake; a mountain pool is set like a deep sapphire amid snow patches flanking an Icelandic glacier; melting snowmobile tracks form a kaleidoscope pattern across the surface of a melting pond in Sweden; and glacial ice extends into an Alaskan bay like bony fingers.
Haas shows that, from high, beauty can be found in unexpected places: industrialized by-products form a swirling canvas of ochre and umber tints at a waste-treatment facility in Norway; peat bog patterns on the frozen Canadian landscape resemble a giant ant farm; a lattice of roads and pipes radiate from a geothermal energy plant in Iceland.
From his lofty perch, Haas is able to see eye-to-eye with an eagle as it soars toward its aerie near the towering Brede Glacier in Greenland. He captures the wanderings of a solitary polar bear on Baffin Island and the acrobatic maneuvers of humpback whales off the Greenland coast.
The human footprint is light in the Arctic, and man is only an occasional guest in this book. In each image where humans make an appearance, the landscape overwhelms the human element, delivering a powerful message that, in the Arctic, we are a mere interloper among the more dominant natural elements, and our presence is transitory. We are not entitled to take center stage. A trail of climbers look no bigger than ants as they ascend the west face of Mount McKinley; a lone angler is a bit player in an image of the vast expanse of Iceland’s Hvítá River; a single clam digger is a footnote as he pokes the sandy shores along Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
Haas’s thoughtful introduction speaks to the emotional tug and lure of the Arctic. He touches on the hardships of the task he undertook — a venture that has no photographic precedent — and on the Vikings, whose hardy, enterprising spirit inspired him. “Like those of the Vikings, my journey encountered logistical problems and the vagaries of Arctic weather. But obstacles were to be expected in confronting this northern band of the world. Ultimately, I found lands that had not changed so drastically in the 1,000 years since the Vikings first set foot upon distant shores — places where nature is always the dominant force, wildlife roams free, and the outposts of humanity are sparse if present at all.”
He writes that he was “drawn to the romance and challenge of facing the Arctic — a grossly mismatched duel where the best you can do is escape unharmed and unbowed” and how “the ability to travel back in time and witness what few others before you have witnessed allows you to sip at the fountain of youth and freshen your spirit.”
Complementing Haas’s stunning images are literary musings on the far north from a select group of noted historical and contemporary authors and Arctic explorers — including John Muir, Robert Peary, Jack London, Mary Shelley and Fridtjof Nansen — that cover the risks of Arctic exploration, the simplicity of native life and the pressing challenges posed by climate change. Their words and Haas’s breathtaking photographs demonstrate that though human activities have wrought this primitive landscape more fragile than ever before, the fascination that it evokes remains intact.
Since 2002 Haas has focused his artistic endeavors exclusively on aerial photography in a quest to capture the grandeur of all Earth’s large landmasses from the air. THROUGH THE EYES OF THE VIKINGS is the third in his collection, following best-selling “Through the Eyes of the Gods: An Aerial Vision of Africa” (2005) and “Through the Eyes of the Condor: An Aerial Vision of Latin America” (2007), two of the most successful and widely distributed single-photographer books ever published by National Geographic.
National Geographic Children’s Books is also publishing a volume of aerial photography by Haas in September. I DREAMED OF FLYING LIKE A BIRD: My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter(National Geographic Children’s Books; ISBN: 978-1-4263-0693-8; Sept. 14, 2010; ages 7-11; $17.95 hardcover) takes young readers across the globe, from the marshlands of Botswana to the frigid waters of Greenland to the jungles of Brazil, as Haas’s stunning photographs present a birds-eye view of the beauty and action of nature’s wildest creatures.
Photography is Haas’s parallel career. A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, he is chairman of the board and founder of Haas Wheat & Partners, a Dallas-based private investment firm.