DPP: From the air, you really must be able to see man's mark on the environment.
Steinmetz: I do see the effects of bad land use and bad farming practices. I think we're seeing a perfect storm in some areas such as in western China, where there's this rapid growth in population and an increase in the quality of life. They're exploiting their land to a heavier degree than they have in the past. They're planting in areas they hadn't planted in and they're grazing more animals than they used to, so they're overusing the land. You see cypress trees that have stood for thousands of years in the middle of the Sahara, but there are no baby trees because they can't germinate and propagate. Or, you're out in the middle of the Sahara, and you see rock art of the hippo. You see all this evidence of long-term climate change.
DPP: Do you write your own stories for the Geographic?
Steinmetz: I've done some limited writing for the magazine. Sometimes they want a piece with the photographer's voice. For my first piece on the Sahara, I wrote about my experience flying with the paraglider. I also wrote a story about a first contact I had in New Guinea. There was no writer with me. We got attacked by these guys with bows and arrows. We had a local that helped us smooth things over.
Upon arrival at a location, I spend a few hours assembling and tuning the motor. The best time to take off is at sunrise. You have beautiful light and the air is very calm. With 10 liters of gasoline mixed with two percent oil, I can fly for two to three hours. If the motor quits, I can glide to the ground with a 7:1 glide ratio.DPP: Were you on terra firma for that story?
Steinmetz: Mostly. I did some work with ropes because these people were living in tree houses. We used ropes to get up there. I had a guy with me who was an expert in putting ropes in trees. He had a crossbow and a lead-tipped arrow with a reel of fishing line that he fired over a strong tree limb, then dragged up a heavier climbing rope. Once the ropes were set, we put on Jumar ascenders and climbed the rope.
DPP: Did you grow up climbing trees?
Steinmetz: I grew up in Beverly Hills. Many people there were more interested in climbing the social ladder than a tree ladder. I preferred the trees.
DPP: What are you doing in terms of your fine-art prints?
Steinmetz: Anastasia Gallery in New York represents my work. We're doing editions in three sizes on Ilford Gallery Smooth Pearl paper—17x22 inches in editions of 10, 30x40, also in editions of 10, and 43x59 inches in editions of five. When you stand in front of the big prints of the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia, you feel like you're just falling into the landscape.
You can see more of George Steinmetz's photography on his website at www.georgesteinmetz.com.
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