Steinmetz's 'Desert Air' offers a bird’s view of deserts

 

McClatchy Newspapers

‘Tis the time of year for coffee table books and, for the adventuresome, there is nothing better than “Desert Air.”

World-class photographer George Steinmetz who worked for National Geographic and GEO Magazine has published a number of his finest photographs in a book that is only just big enough to hold their subjects.

He was fascinated with the hyper-arid regions — “areas that get less than four inches of annual precipitation.” Seated in a motorized paraglider, he glided over deserts and cities taking photographs. They become a record of time and place.

Gliding over the ruins of the city of Masada, in Israel, you see the dry desolation of the land around it. It was here that a group of Jews held out against the Romans who ended up building a ramp to attack the cliff-top city only to find the inhabitants had committed suicide.

In Chinguetti, Mauritania, a UNESCO Heritage site, the Saharan sands are slowly burying the city, started in the 12th century and known for its libraries and mosques. From the air it looks like a half-excavated archaeological dig.

Bounding across salt flats in Bolivia, vicuna cast huge shadows resembling animals from French cave paintings dating back to the Ice Age.

Nothing was simple. “Going on such trips would require a lot of sacrifices, such as long absences from my wife, who has a career of her own, and our young family,” says Steinmetz. “The proposal writing and field planning for each trip took many weeks of effort. ... And once I got in the field, the journey itself was even more grueling. In pursuit of these images, I went through five motors, four paragliders, and nine pairs of hiking shoes.”

He was also injured. One of his paragliders hit a tree in China giving him a wound that took seventeen stitches. Among rough landing was into the Pacific Ocean. Walking across a lava lake, he plunged through the crust. His boots filled with “scalding acidic water up to my knees.”

In Iran, the team ran afoul of international tensions. Wildlife tested his patience in Arizona’s Sonoran desert when his camera strobe lights scared the sheep but gave him a priceless photo of a female mountain lion at the edge of a stream.

In the introduction, he writes that he discovered the deserts weren’t just dried sand and arid land. “I quickly learned that these ‘barren wastelands’ are actually extremely fragile ecosystems undergoing rapid change.”

He says that while climate change was part of it, most changes came from the hand of man. “Desert Air” covers deserts, lava lakes, the icy mountains of the Andes and the oases of the Sahara. It took fifteen years to complete and visits to thirty countries. It’s a beautiful book worth looking at for a long time.

---------------------------- “Desert Air” by George Steinmetz; Abrams, New York ($60)

Email: twells@mcclatchydc.com Twitter: @TishWells1

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - This is a Wednesday, Sept. 7, 1994.  file photo of  Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, right, as he  stands with U.S. Vice President Al Gore at Shannon Airport, Ireland. Authorities Thursday Aug 21, 2014, said that  Albert Reynolds, the straight-talking Irish prime minister who played a key role in delivering peace to Northern Ireland, has died after a long battle with Alzheimerís disease. He was 81.  Reynolds, a renowned deal-maker who made millions operating rural dance halls and a pet food company, led two feud-prone coalition governments from 1992 to 1994.

    Irish peacemaker, ex-premier Reynolds dies at 81

    Albert Reynolds, the straight-talking Irish prime minister who played a key role in delivering peace to Northern Ireland, has died after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 81.

  • Group: Justice elusive year after Syria gas attack

    One year after the deadly chemical attack on rebel-held areas outside Damascus, the victims and their families have yet to see those behind the mass killings held responsible, a human rights group said Thursday.

  • Indonesian police fire tear gas at poll protesters

    Indonesian police fired tear gas Thursday to disperse protesters trying to get close to a court set to rule on a challenge to the legality of last month's elections.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category