'I’m more of a journalist than an artist'

Yann Arthus-Bertrand talks about his latest documentary Human, his discovery of aerial photography, and his experience of shooting in India.

November 07, 2015 02:05 am | Updated April 24, 2017 10:37 pm IST

Mumbai, 04/11/2015: French Photographer YANN ARTHUS-BERTRAND is in Mumbai to attend screening of his movie 'HUMAN', which is part of ongoing MAMI film festival.Photo: Prashant Nakwe.

Mumbai, 04/11/2015: French Photographer YANN ARTHUS-BERTRAND is in Mumbai to attend screening of his movie 'HUMAN', which is part of ongoing MAMI film festival.Photo: Prashant Nakwe.

The poster of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s latest film, Human, is very different from those of his earlier work. Instead of a spectacular aerial view of earth’s vistas or the enormous blue ocean, it simply has a face. Of course, Bertrand’s signature — the stunning bird’s-eye view of biblical proportions of a desert in Pakistan or of fields of Mongolia — are all there in the film. But in Human, they only punctuate a narrative that is a series of interviews. Common people across the world speak candidly about their experiences of love, violence, poverty, homophobia and misogyny, as the camera provides an unblinking detailed view of their faces, bare with emotions.

Sankhayan Ghosh

The film has stories from India as well. The interviews were conducted by an able network of line producers from across the world. But Bertrand had a nightmarish experience shooting in India for Human when he was denied permission to shoot the Kumbh Mela in 2013. “I had all the papers with me, but the authorities simply didn’t allow me to shoot. They said that shooting from a helicopter could scare the crowd. I had to go back with my equipments and a crew of 15 people,” he says. And adds, “I love India, but I hate bureaucracy.”

Bertrand’s coffee-table book, Earth From Above — which sold more than 4 million copies and was later turned into a documentary for French TV — is the best aerial view of the planet from the pre-Google Earth times.

Bertrand’s left home at 17, in the hope of becoming an actor, and lived on the streets. As he became more interested in nature and wildlife, he, along with some friends, built an animal reserve in a forest in France.

But his interest in aerial photography developed when he stayed in Maasai Mara, Kenya, to pursue a PhD in the study of behaviour of lions, for three years. The experience changed his life, he says. “I used to guide tourists in hot air balloons for a living. It’s a terrain I knew very well but when I saw it from above, it gave me a completely new perspective about the world.”

Bertrand wears many hats: he is a photographer, an environmental activist, a filmmaker and a writer. He has been running ‘Goodplanet’, an environmental non-profit organisation, since 2005. His work is a combination of all these roles: his most-watched documentary, Home, is a depiction of how all of earth’s problems are connected. But his influences, he believes, come mostly from journalism. “Journalism is the only job in the world which allows you to find out whatever you want to, if you are curious. I consider myself more of a journalist than an artist,” the Paris-born photographer says.


Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.