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.
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.