This quote suits Bernhard Edmaier well. As an engineer, photographer and artist he searches for beauty in the textures of the Earth’s crust, in its strange shapes and broad spectrum of colour. His work is not about the changes of the seasons. Edmaier’s images pick out the tones and nuances of soil, rock, sand, fire, lava, water and ice. He roams the world, and the result is a thrilling journey over the surface of the Earth, presented as endless succession of abstract works of art.
But Edmaier aims to communicate more than just a sense of beauty through his photography. “I also want to arouse interest in the geological process, the process of transformation that has been going on for millions of years and is constantly reshaping our planet. The purpose of my GeoArt project, is to document unspoiled natural landscapes. By doing this I hope to broaden people’s awareness that there are still large expanses of our planet that are worth protecting.”
A natural choiceBernhard Edmaier began his career as a civil engineer and geologist, before changing direction in 1992 to become a photographer. One of the reasons for his career choice was Edmaier’s striving for perfection and the optimum image quality. He was very dissatisfied with the quality of the colour photos he saw in geology books. For Edmaier, the choice was a natural one – to combine his knowledge of geology with that of photography.
Self-financedBernhard Edmaier lives near Munich, in Germany, and works as a freelance photographer. He plans and finances his own photographic assignments. He has never had a sponsor. “My dream is that one day I’ll be able to do an exciting photo-documentary without carrying the entire financial risk myself. A dream assignment would be to take aerial photographs of Iran for my GeoArt project, or to do a documentary of the active volcanoes in Japan. It’s impossible to do this type of assignment on your own without financial backing.”
Four books in progressEdmaier has already produced four filmstrips, and the income from his books gives him the opportunity to plan each new project several years in advance. The work for some of these productions has kept him travelling for six months at a time.
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His first work “Volcanoes – where the earth spews fire and ash”, is a powerful documentary record of volcanoes, lava and heat. In 1995 this book was chosen as the “Most beautiful scientific publication of the year” in Germany. In 1997 Edmaier took the same prize again, this time for documenting a completely different environment: “The Icy World – the cosmos of minus degrees”. To put it simply, what Edmaier reveals in this book is that ice is infinitely more than just frozen water. In “GeoArt – The Earth as Work of Art” (1998) his focus turns to the shapes and patterns of soil and rock. His images often trick the eye. A sun-baked river bed in Namibia looks like crushed clay with pastel icing, and in the lava flowing from Landeyjarsandur on Iceland you can clearly see the brush strokes in what looks like a watercolour painting. This book has won several distinctions, including the KODAK photography book prize in 1998. Edmaier’s most recent book “Colour of the Earth – Nature ’s Studio” shows the surface of the earth as a sprawling palette of colour. Once again his images border on the abstract, and even though you know the answer you find yourself repeatedly asking whether these are really photographs.
Meticulous planningEdmaier stresses that his photographic projects are never the outcome of random events, but instead require meticulous planning. “I do a lot of my research on the Internet and I maintain close contact with local scientists wherever I intend to photograph. Taking aerial shots demands perfect light and weather conditions, which can sometimes mean a week-long wait before I get to start work. If I’m doing landscape shots I’ll often visit the place I want to photograph in advance to find the best location to work from.”
Edmaier’s passion is seeing the world from above, as he feels that nature’s abstract beauty is only truly revealed from a bird’s-eye perspective. He prefers to work from a helicopter, but at heights above 500 metres it has to be an aeroplane. “When I work from the air I only use Fujichrome Velvia. To avoid motion blur I use shutter speeds of 1/750 s and 1/1000 s. This means I only use focal lengths that also give perfect image quality at maximum aperture (such as a Zeiss Planar 3.5/100 mm).”
Only Hasselblad cameras and Zeiss lensesEdmaier only uses Hasselblad cameras and Zeiss lenses. “When I have a Hasselblad in my hand I have the feeling I’m working with a totally professional tool.” His photographic outfit now comprises a large number of cameras and lenses; a Hasselblad 503CXi, two Hasselblad 201Fs, a Hasselblad FlexBody, and seven Zeiss lenses with focal lengths ranging from 40 to 350 mm. “My favourite combination for aerial photography is the Hasselblad 201F with the unbeatable Zeiss Planar 3.5/100 mm. For landscape photography I prefer the Hasselblad FlexBody fitted with a Zeiss Distagon 4/50 mm or Makro-Planar 4/120 mm, especially for close-ups with an interesting backdrop.”
Total happinessBernard Edmaier would never consider doing any other work than he does now. “Photography is my profession and my hobby. I enjoy many things in life, including good food and drink, art and music. But there is nothing that gives me such a feeling of happiness as sitting in a helicopter and flying over the endless deserts of Africa, the ice plains of Greenland or the coral cliffs of the Great Barrier Reef.”