Bernhard Lang tried his hand at many jobs before finding the perfect profession. The combination of technical skill and creative craftsmanship drew him to photography. After a three year apprenticeship, and experience assisting a roster of international photographers, he was ready to venture out on his own. While his photography provided exciting opportunities and a stable income, he found his true voice with his Aerial Views project. Hoovering miles above land, he uncovered a deep passion in aerial photography and has built an impressive body of work over the last nine years exploring the environment from 10,000 feet.
How did you get into Aerial photography?
I’ve always have been fascinated by the vistas outside the window during passenger flights. I remember being particularly captivated by snowy landscapes during a trip over Siberia and the vast deserts of the Sahara en route to South Africa. Seeing these sceneries from 10,000 meters above was breathtaking for me. They conjured visions of abstract paintings as I looked at patterns, structures and shapes in the landscape. I was drawn to capture this vision with my camera.
Your work operates between two dimensions, graphic adventures in composition, colour and pattern like the tulip fields, which start to border on abstraction, and then a type of documentary which comments on social, economic and environmental issues. Can you talk a little about this duality?
I’m always searching for visually dynamic locations. This could be graphic shapes seen in my “Mar del Plastico” Series or colourful patterns in my “Tulip Fields”. Beyond the aesthetic, I’m always interested in landscapes which allow explore globally relevant issues and allow for social commentary.
Your work occupies an interesting space which is both an examination of the natural landscape, but also the interventions humans have made on the land. Why do you find this so fascinating?
Before I began my Aerial work, I had started to pay attention to how densely populated areas of our plant are. Europe, in particular, is nearly completely shaped by humans, even the forest and meadows bare signs of intervention. This fascinated me, and the elevated view was the perfect place to explore this. The guiding principle in my work is the transformation of our planet and the environment we inhabit. I’m interested in the scope of this evolution from it’s the natural form to how it is reworked and redesigned by both natural and human-made causes.
At the same time, there is often a surprising beauty found in these interventions. I try to show this antagonism through my work.
What a typical day is like when you’re shooting from the sky?
On a shoot day, I’m always buzzing with anticipation; every shot has a long preparation time which is logistically challenging. After doing a final equipment check, I head to the airport. I discuss flight route and shoot aims with the pilot before take off. During the flight, I am immensely focused, searching for the perfect composition.
When we land I backup all the work. I often spend a few days reviewing the new images, which is exciting and rewarding. The adrenaline usually takes over while shooting, so it’s great to take that time to review everything in a relaxed state of mind.
What is the most challenging part of shooting from a helicopter or small plane?
I love working from the air, especially in helicopters. You’re free to go in all directions and to stay in one place. For direct overheads, I lean out of open doors or stand outside on the skids. This can be very challenging and intense, yet when I look through the camera, I am completely calm and focused, utterly engaged in the moment.
You have made work all over the world, which project or place inspired you the most?
The most rewarding shoot was in Manila in the Philippines in 2017. I was shooting a series about one of the most urgent global issues, overpopulation. The night before the shoot, I witnessed a huge fire break out across the city in one of our key locations. The next morning when we flew over there, an entire slum quarter had burnt down. It was heart-wrenching to see people trying to find their belongings in piles of destroyed homes.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I get a buzz viewing the results of a new project, especially if they come out better than my expectations. I also love to share the work and get it in front of a wider audience, so I love showing my work in galleries, magazines and discussing my work with others.
What keeps you motivated?
I’m driven to capture interesting and relevant images. Our human intervention on our environment will never diminish, so there are always new facets to explore in my work.