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September 28, 2004

The Earth Seen from the Sky
Posted by Teresa at 12:01 AM *

The La Terre Vue de Ciel website is a collection of extraordinary aerial photographs, most of them taken at relatively close range. I picked up the link from Rahoi, who thinks this picture is the greatest photo of all time. My favorite from the collection is this perfect alluvial fan. Also, this river island. And this small boat in a stand of drowned trees.

The pictures aren’t labeled, but they’re readable. You stare for a while at what looks like an abstract pattern, then suddenly say “Oh, those are runoff channels in loose vocanic ash. That’s a big sandbar. Those bowls are lined up there in place of their owners, awaiting their turn at the well. How poor do you have to be to mark those painstakingly divided fields in land that’s almost bare rock? Those guys are drying something underneath the palm trees. Okay, they’ve laid out about a zillion carpets on the ground; wonder why?

With some, you have to look closely. And if anyone will tell me what this one is all about, I’ll be much obliged.

I’ll admit I’ve been stashing some away in memory as useful bits for genre fantasy: a fortified city in a wasteland. Ruins in the desert. The distribution of an old village. A rigorously geometrical mud-brick city.

All this and more. Check it out.

Comments on The Earth Seen from the Sky:
#1 ::: Andreas ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:33 AM:

"And if anyone will tell me what this one is all about, I’ll be much obliged."

Looks like strands of sweetwater algae in a slow flowing river.

#2 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:37 AM:

Either that, or it's a shot of a kelp bed from an aerial platform, using a telephoto lens.

#3 ::: Lloyd Burchill ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:38 AM:

I've got the book Earth from Above that the photos come from. The algae is from page 257, and is titled "Algae in the Gulf of Morbihan, France."

#4 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:50 AM:

What he said.

#5 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:56 AM:

Hm, I believe I've been on those "painstakingly divided fields on almost bare rock". Looks an awful lot like the Aran Islands to me.

#7 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 09:31 AM:

Wow. Bloody. Incredible. Thank you very much for that!

#8 ::: John Owen ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 09:46 AM:

If you go to Yann Arthus-Bertrand's own site (, you can find many of these photos, complete with captions to explain what they are.

I was given "Earth from the Air, 366 Days" by YA-B at the weekend, and it is crammed full of gorgeous photos, along with mini-essays on the environment alongside each photo. Very good, very effective (also very heavy!)

#9 ::: dlacey ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 09:54 AM:

Wow, those are just stunning. Thanks very much.

#10 ::: Jane Carnall ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:17 AM:

A lot of them were on display in the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens as part of this year's Festival. They are extraordinary, and it's good to know they're available online.

#11 ::: Holly ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:25 AM:

"And if anyone will tell me what this one is all about, I’ll be much obliged."

I'm fairly sure they're Truffula Trees.

#12 ::: T ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:45 AM:

The dsiplay at the Edinburgh Botanics was indeed amaxing. i spent a happy afternoon wandering round them with my shoes off on the cool grass of one of the most beautiful green spaces in Edinburgh.

I think the guys are drying dates under the trees in Morocco, from my memory of the caption in teh book, but I may be wrong. I think this is one of my favourites. I can totally relate to his resting after working so hard. I know he is picking cotton & I don't do that, but think of it as symbolic for any long, tedious task...

#13 ::: Eimear Ní Mhéalóid ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:58 AM:

I guessed those stone walled fields were in the Aran Islands also. Apart from dividing the land up, it's a practical place to put the stones you've backbreakingly gathered from the field. Traditionally you then proceed to gather seaweed and manure the land with it. See O'Flaherty, Liam, passim.

#14 ::: Priscilla ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:14 AM:

And Truffula trees are what everyone needs.

#15 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:20 AM:

I simply love this kind of photography, Teresa, so thanks.

About 20 years ago when I was still a reporter, I got a chance to ride jumpseat on a KC-135 tanker aircraft during an exercise, which included daytime inflight refueling of B-52's. At the back of the cargo area is a depression in the floor the size of three coffins, the refueling bay. There are three positions with rather nice leather cusions, the outside two for observers and the middle one for the boom operator. Observing the refueling process is fascinating, especially if you get to try out the boom beforehand to see just how difficult it is. (The high adrenaline version is refueling at night with only a couple of lights, but that is another story.)

But the best part for me was after we finished the refueling over South Dakota and headed back to California. I got to stay back in the pit for an hour or so. There is nothing like a comfortable, though chilly, spot to stretch out on your stomach and look straight down through a decent window at the passing country. We passed over Utah and the Wasatch were unforgettable and Lake Tahoe matched that.

#16 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:55 AM:

Thanks so much! I've added the site to my Links, right after the NASA photo of the day.

#17 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 12:56 PM:

Thanks Teresa, and John, for the links.

The link to the old village looked familiar, and I found it when I looked at the Philippines photos in the site John linked to. Here's the original photo.
The green threw me off -- in the original photo I can tell it's lahar (mud/ash) that drowned the buildings.
(And it does demonstrate typical village/town layout of the Spanish colonial period. The church and across or beside it the governor/mayor's residence and/or city hall. Both overlook the town square where all town gatherings happen. Farther away from the town center buildings are smaller and poorer.)

I haven't been able to find the caption for this one though and can't figure out what it is?

I want the book, now. Beautiful.

#18 ::: JM Kagan ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 01:48 PM:

My money says those brand new rugs are laid out to be aged by wind and sand and sun so they can later be sold to the tourist trade as antiques.
In some areas, the weavers actually spread the rugs out across a street and let the traffic drive over them for good measure.
As Ricky points out, tires are fine for that well-worn look but cleats are not. Wherever this was taken, it may be the weavers can't risk having tanks drive over their goods.
Cheers, Janet

#19 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:06 PM:

Wonderful images. Just the type I really love. Some of them were published in small glossy booklets inserted in one of our Sunday papers either this year or last & I put them away to feast my eyes & mind on, & have considered saving up for one of the books.

mayakda, that seems to be a rocky ridge with a shadowed valley between it and another rocky wall behind (see the erosion features behind, and rock layers in the ridge). It looks like a ruined? building perched on the top, with a relict tree in its grounds, caught in lowering sunlight.

Mind you, the fact that they played with the colour of the ashflow in the buried village makes me worry that something might have been done to this as well, to pick out the plant & building, say.

#20 ::: Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:11 PM:

Amazing how many people knew it was Earth From Above. I had just pulled out the book to tell you, then read the comments. When I was in London in the summer of 03 these pix were on display outside the Natural History Museum, a maze of photos that were the size of small billboards. The book and the website are something to look at, but you could just fall into those pictures and live there forever.


#21 ::: phule ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:29 PM:

So let me get this straight. Someone violates Yann Arthus-Bertrand's copyright and you link to the stolen photos proclaiming their wonderfulness without actually giving him credit?

Christ on a fucking crutch, do you give a rats ass for anyones property?

#22 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:45 PM:

ll yr vwls r blng t s

Re JM Kagan's response:
My money says those brand new rugs are laid out to be aged by wind and sand and sun so they can later be sold to the tourist trade as antiques.

That makes sense, except that when I worked in a tall office building in midtown Manhattan, I saw similar rugs spread over the roofs of buildings on sunny days. My office-mates and I guessed that it was to ward off moisture and mildew. (Silly us, we never bothered to venture down to the street and over to the rug shop to actually ask them.)

#23 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:50 PM:

The rug shot could also be the floor of a mosque. I've been to mosques in Turkey and Syria that were giant, domed buildings, entirely empty except for the floors covered three deep in rugs.

#24 ::: Elese ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 03:09 PM:

On the topic of pictures of Earth from space, I like this one of a total solar eclipse seen from the Space Station Mir.

#25 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 03:27 PM:

I'm with Rahoi; the photo of the camels is breathtaking.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 04:27 PM:

Phule, are you sure that's the best way to raise that question?

#27 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Phule... I'm sensing...anger.

:: bearded shrink raises eyebrow, scribbles on notepad ::

#28 ::: Jon Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:37 PM:

Paris is dotted with posters advertising the upcoming film of the book. (La Terre Vu Au Ciel, in French, iirc). From what I gather it's basically a massive slideshow with narration.

#29 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:41 PM:

FWIW, you can also see Yann's photography here at the official site, and avoid the wrath of phule:

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:43 PM:

I'm wondering how Phule knows the site is unauthorized.

#31 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:44 PM:

I'm suspecting cross-processing, or maybe color infrared, or of course maybe just our good friend Photoshop (but that's of course cheating, whereas getting the same colors the other two ways is completely legitemate :-)).

#32 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:45 PM:


Just wow.

#33 ::: Adina ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 06:08 PM:

I just sent mail to the general contact address at Yann Arthus-Bertrand's website, asking if the site that Teresa originally cited has their permission. I'll let you know if they reply.

(Well, that was fast)
"All your emails are welcome, however we can only answer to professional questions, and we ask you to contact the person concerned by your request."
(In French, English, and Spanish).

Hmmm. Maybe I'll try the photo library manager.

I suspect that the site that Teresa links to is unauthorized, just because it doesn't have any attributions.

#34 ::: Lloyd Burchill ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 06:30 PM:


The title of the picture you asked about is "Isolated house in the mountains of the Musandam Peninsula, Oman" (pp. 46-47).

Earth From Above duels Full Moon for the throne of my photo book collection.

#35 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:56 PM:

There's a beautiful book with satellite pictures that was worked on by a fan/budding writer. I looked through it at Minicon a few years ago, but I can't remember the name and I'm apparently not googling well enough.

#36 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:20 PM:

These pictures were outside the Natural History Museum for, oh, years. Huge versions -- presumably the same ones now in Edinburgh. I bought the lovely children's geography book, and I bought 366 days as a present -- though it was one of those presents that I rather resented giving away.

My favourite is the camels, as well. There's a copy of it on the wall of the Treasury canteen (I hope this isn't an Official Secret...)

#37 ::: jo. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 08:34 PM:

The original website also has some great photos of
prize pigs and such. These are almost as good as the arial photos.

#38 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:50 PM:


I totally agree with your statement "Earth From Above duels Full Moon for the throne of my photo book collection." Those are my two favorites, as well.

--I just ran downstairs to see exactly what is on my most-often-referred-to oversized book shelf:

Full Moon
Earth from Above
2 books of penguin photographs (Roger Tory Peterson and Wolfgang Kaehler)
a book of photographs of Kilauea erupting
the Taschen volume on Matisse
the sublime Dance Me to the End of Love, Leonard Cohen lyrics paired with Matisse art
Dick Lupoff's The Great American Paperback
Russ Cochran's 3-volume Edgar Rice Burroughs Library of Illustration

#39 ::: Terry G. Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 12:50 AM:

Aren't those dates being dried beneath the palms?

#40 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 01:20 AM:

Oh lovely lovely pictures. Thanks especially to mayakda for the link to the Philippines page. We really do live in a beautiful country, if one just takes time to appreciate it. I have to say though that even if the Chocolate Hills look interesting from the air, they're even more breathtaking seen from the ground. (Those mounds may look tiny but just try climbing the steps built into one of them!)

For some reason that river island photo makes me think of that scene near the end of Fellowship of the Ring when the fellowship is traveling down the river on separate boats, and at night Frodo notices Gollum following behind them. Still gives me shivers to remember it.

#41 ::: Marco ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 04:28 AM:

Please forgive me for pointing out that it's La terre vue du ciel. Touchy like that.

#42 ::: Adam Contini ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 07:17 AM:

Although everyone has pointed out that the picture was of algae, I'd like to at least draw the comparison between that picture (thanks for the link, by the way. amazing.) and the opening shots of Tarkovsky's "Solaris." According to Akira Kurosawa, who (if memory serves) considered the Solaris algae shots to be among the greatest ever filmed, getting a shot like that is extraordinarily difficult - not just because of positioning, but also because of the amount of natural light required to illuminate the vegetation in that way without reflecting at all back into the lens. Kudos to the photog.

#43 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 08:11 AM:

They also had a big display of the photos up all summer, 2002, in downtown Beirut. Ultra-super-stunning is right.

#44 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 10:25 AM:

Thanks, Epacris, and Lloyd, for answering my question.
I checked Oman in the official site and saw this, which is almost but not quite like that.
I'm guessing that the official site doesn't have all the pictures in the book (another good reason for me to put the book on my wishlist).

antukin, the caption on this made me want to cry and, to me, this belongs in a bleak fantasy landscape, ravaged by evil.

I have to admit my mind cannot make sense of this picture of a Tausug Village, even when I read the caption.

#45 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 12:16 PM:

mayakada: To me, this is extremely chilling... (And the last picture from Ukraine isn't cheery either.)

#46 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 12:17 PM:

mayakda puzzled:

I have to admit my mind cannot make sense of this picture of a Tausug Village [0], even when I read the caption.

It seems pretty plain to me - it looks like a village along two sides of water, with heavy jungle... Am I seeing things?

[0][I've corrected your link in my post btb, so that it'll go to the picture - there's a typo in your post]

#47 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 01:09 PM:

cd: I hadn't seen those. Yes, very desolate.

xeger: Thanks for correcting the link. You are seeing it right -- those are houses. But my mind keeps twisting it into some kind of tree branch with green slime dripping down and little bugs (aphids?) clinging to it.
It's probably just me. As a kid one of my hobbies was seeing scenes and faces in water stains on the walls. (It was an old house. In a rainy country.)

#48 ::: cee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Re: the Tausug Village photo - if you scroll further down the page, you'll find a full description, part of which says: "....small hamlets of bamboo houses on stilts, scattered along the coasts fringed with coral..."

#49 ::: Sara E. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 08:16 PM:

I went to and looked at the photos. They are just incredible. Beautiful. I am going to take my time and go over each country.

And Phule, jeez sometimes people stumble across things on the web, don't know where they're from, but share so that they DO find out where it's originally from. So dude, like chill.

#50 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2004, 12:22 AM:

Somewhat related, is a 'gallery' of 3 "Pictures of Ophir Chasma taken by Mars Express from 250 kilometres"

Actually they look rather like computer images constructed from original satellite pictures - somone might know the original site which would probably give a fuller explanation than the associated newspaper story, but I'm a bit too busy right now.

#51 ::: squiddy ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2004, 11:18 AM:

I saw these incredible photos outside in the summer in a huge display at the Stadsdeel in Amsterdam, they were wonderful. I did find it a bit ironic, however, that the display was part-sponsored by the Shell oil company...

#52 ::: Adina ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2004, 12:01 PM:

I got mail back from Yann Arthus Bertrand. He said that if the other site isn't commercial, it's OK with him.

#53 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2004, 05:00 PM:

Adina! You're a hero for taking on this Phule's errand and vindicating Making Light!

#54 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2004, 08:39 PM:

The one with the camels is certainly wonderful but the drowned trees. Oh oh oh.


#55 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2004, 06:51 PM:

This weekend just happens to be the 10th anniversary of the day my wife and I moved in together. I bought _Earth From Above_ for her as a gift. She was very, very pleased.

Thanks, Teresa.

#56 ::: Adina ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2004, 03:27 PM:

<blush> Thank you, Sean. I was doing it as much for myself as for anyone else. Really, I'd be happier if the person with the original website had noted the source of the lovely pictures.

#57 ::: claudia andrade diomedi ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 11:45 AM:


#58 ::: Serge sees gusto SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 11:48 AM:

In fact, MUCHO gusto...

#59 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 02:04 PM:

I don't think it's spam. No links to anything, and no identical messages on other boards.

Claudia saw a movie on HBO (I suspect it was Deep Impact) that convinced her that she needs to help protect the planet and gladly pledges her hands to do so.

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