Biography

Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Photo. by Antoine Verdet

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, born in 1946, has always had a passion for the animal world and the natural environment. At the age of 20, he settled in central France and became the director of a nature reserve.

When he was 30, he travelled to Kenya with his wife with whom he carried out a three-year study on the behaviour of a family of lions in the Massaï Mara reserve. He quickly started using a camera as a visual aid to capture his observations and enhance the written reports they compiled. While in Africa, he earned his living as a hot-air balloon pilot. This was when he really discovered the earth from above and the advantages of viewing what he was studying from afar to gain an overall picture of an area and its resources. He discovered his calling: to demonstrate the Earth’s beauty and show the impact of mankind on the Planet. His first book, Lions, was born of this adventure – he likes to call these lions his “first photography teachers.”

Little by little, Yann became a reporter focusing on environmental issues, and collaborating with Géo, National Geographic, Life, Paris Match, Figaro Magazine etc.

He then started a personal work on the relationship mankind/ animal, which led to the books Good breeding and Horses. In 1991, he founded the first aerial photography agency in the world.

For the First Rio Conference in 1992, Yann decided to prepare a big work for the year 2000 on the state of the planet: it is The Earth From the Air. This book encountered a great success and over 3 million copies were sold. The outdoor exhibitions have been seen so far by about 200 Million people.

Yann then created the Goodplanet Foundation that aims to raise public awareness of environmental issues, implement carbon offset programmes and fight deforestation with local NGOs.

Within the Foundation, he developed the 6 billion Others project, that has just changed names and become 7 billion Others. More than 6000 interviews were filmed in 84 countries. From a Brazilian fisherman to a Chinese shopkeeper, from a German performer to an Afghan farmer, all answered the same questions about their fears, dreams, ordeals, hopes: "What have you learned from your parents? What do you want to pass on to your children? What difficult circumstances have you been through? What does love mean to you?" Forty or so questions that help us to find out what separates and what unites us.

Due to this involvement, Yann Arthus-Bertrand is today considered more an environmentalist and activist than a photographer. It is because of this commitment that Yann Arthus-Bertrand was designated Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme on Earth Day (April 22nd, 2009).

In 2006, Yann started the series Vu Du Ciel, a television documentary series of several one-and-a-half hour episodes, each dealing with a particular environmental problem. It was shown on French public television and is currently being distributed for broadcast in 49 countries. Encouraged by his television experiment, Yann Arthus-Bertrand undertook the production of a full-length feature film, HOME, that deals with the state of our planet. The film was released on the 5th of June 2009 on television, on the Internet, on DVD and in cinemas simultaneously worldwide, almost entirely free of charge to the public. More than 600 million people have seen it so far.

In 2011, Yann directed two films for the United Nations : the film Forest, official film of the 2011 International Year of the Forest, and the film Desertification. Both were screened during UN General Assemblies.

Yann founded a non-profit production company, "Hope". For the World Water Forum in March 2012, Yann, Thierry Piantanida and Baptiste Rouget-Luchaire directed a film narrating the history of water and reminding us that reasoned management of water is a crucial challenge for our century. This documentary was broadcast on French national television on the 20 th of March 2012.

For Rio + 20, Yann directed the film "Planet Ocean" with Michael Pitiot. This film aims to promote understanding of the importance of oceans in the ecosystem. In the same time, the GoodPlanet Foundation initiated a “Ocean Programme”, to raise awareness of the importance of marine ecosystems. At the heart of this programme, the publication of the book “L’Homme et la Mer” by the Editions de la Martinière, available in bookstores from the 18 th of October 2012.

In 2012, Yann began filming his next feature film called "Human." At the crossroads of "Home" and the project "7 Billion Others", "Human" is comprised of interviews with people from all conditions in over 45 countries, and aerial images gleaned all over the world. Filming takes place in very diverse landscapes since June 2012. Particular, from January 2014, Thailand, Antarctica, Dubai, Brazil, Pakistan, Cuba or Japan. The film will be available in 2015 and the preview will be United Nations in the presence of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

In July 2013, Yann Arthus-Bertrand opened his photographic studio in Paris (15 rue de Seine - 75006). This friendly place, open to all, is to allow everyone to discover his way of working, to better understand what happens behind each of his photos and meet his team (www.atelieryannarthusbertrand.com)

The work of Yann Arthus-Bertrand has shown its commitment to awaken a collective responsibility and conscience. In this awareness "campaign" the objective is to reach to the most people possible.

All the films produced by HOPE are available free of charge to NGOs, nonprofits and schools in the frame work of environmental education.

Timeline

Yann keywords

  • Adolescence

    Adolescence has left me very few memories. I wanted to work and went towards the cinema. For three years, from 17 to 20, I became assistant director, and then an actor in several movies, including one with Michelle Morgan. I think the interesting part of my life started after I was 20, when I managed a nature reserve in France. That's when I found out I wanted to work in the field of environment.

  • Beauty

    "For a long time, I was afraid to use that word. Still, it holds a truth and I have made it mine. There is a universal quality about beauty; in front of a vast landscape, we all share the same feeling of wonder. When nature is beautiful, we are all moved by it. While taking a photo "for beauty at its best", I aim at eliciting emotion to provoke thought and the need to know more, to read the caption and learn what is at stake on the image."

  • Frame

    "When framing a photograph, one looks with more tension, more professionally; one concentrates, detached. The eye is alert. Emotion comes later. With time, the camera becomes an extension of oneself. I am practically unable to look at the world outside the frame of the camera. I am obsessed with the Large Picture. So much so that I would rather not see certain things than see them without a camera. Naturally, the photos I remember best are those I failed to take."

  • Commitment

    "I believe my own commitment was initially shaped by those I admired and tried to emulate. I was first moved by animal life, then my interest extended to nature, and then to mankind. My commitment to sustainable development stemmed from fieldwork, from studying the Earth on a daily basis, from encounters and from readings. I became aware that my photos were useful, and that my own convictions gave them additional value. Besides, the more conscious one is of the issues at stake, the more interest one takes in our planet, the greater the desire to actively engage in change for the better."

  • Ethics

    "Generosity, intellectual honesty and truthfulness are the qualities I value most. The ethics of those I work with are important to me, and I like them to share the ideals I defend."

  • Exhibitions

    "People often believe that the best time for me is when we are flying, taking shots of incredible landscapes. But one is always under some stress up there, self pressurised, really, and the sense of responsibility tends to spoil the pleasure of the moment... In fact, the best time is when I see the result of my work at an exhibition; I am happy and moved to see people looking at my pictures, talking about them, getting closer in the sharing and so glad to be there... Nothing touches me more than seeing schoolchildren with a guide in front of my photos. I have this strange feeling that I have been the link between the public and these landscapes. At the same time, I hear a little voice whispering to me: "You can't have done that, it's impossible." I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time: people were ready for my work, perhaps living in expectation of such views of our planet."

  • Fame

    "With fame, one is naturally more exposed and hastily judged; your motivations, and actions, the views you hold are under close scrutiny. You are in for some rough handling and rarely given the benefit of the doubt... Still, fame does open doors; it becomes easier to obtain flying permissions and financial support. But too many TV appearances can eat up time and interfere with your work. I fell into this trap when the first edition of Earth from above came out. Since then, I've tried to put my fame to better use. It makes helping others simpler: you are approached and asked to contribute something to important causes. In creating the 3P association, I used my name to launch a project that I hold particularly dear, but I hope it will soon develop outside of me."

  • Obsession

    "To be obsessed is fairly characteristic of artists, of photographers. I keep a small notebook on which I jot down ideas when I wake up at night. At first, you are alone in believing in what you do. There is a component of self-motivation in the compulsive personality, and it is indispensable to see one's projects through. But it can be hard on those around us. If you are not careful, work takes up all the space. Fortunately, my wife has always anchored me in my life as a man. And making a success of this aspect of life is far more important than anything else."

  • Countries

    "With Earth from above, my aim is not to portray this or that country. I simply want to show the Earth as it strands now, as faithfully as possible. Towns, wars, dumps are all part of the Earth and our common concern. I don't point, and I don't accuse. Dumps like the one in Mexico and that particular photo certainly got us into a tangle with the Mexicans can be found all over the world. What motivates me is the value a photograph can take within the framework of environmental preservation. The great novelty of our time is that mankind has the power to change its environment. I testify to an established fact so people can think about it. But, I repeat, I never mean to take issue with this or that particular country; I'm making a statement about the Earth."

  • Responsability

    "I became less flexible as a result of knowing the Earth. Since we all have a share of responsibility, I try to do my part on a daily basis. Earth from above, the book, sold over 2 million copies, plus the exhibitions and published photographs (with their captions, always). This means my work has a definite impact. Hence, like all journalists, I must give careful thought to my responsibilities. In Buddhist philosophy, if your life is not in keeping with your words, your words are worth nothing. I believe each of us should attempt at leading an exemplary life. Though perfection may be an illusory goal, striving towards it in everyday life must deserve some credit."

  • Religion

    "I am not a religious person. I would define myself rather as a dreamer who endeavours to implement his dreams with both feet solidly rooted to the ground. Strangely enough, the Earth from above photographs generated much mail from religiously inclined people for whom the very beauty of theses landscapes was proof to God's existence. Quite a few sects contacted me too... Many are those who seem to find a strong spiritual dimension in these views."

  • Publicity

    "I have become wary of publicity. Initially, I thought it would prove helpful to my work. I have since realised that, quite to the contrary, it was detrimental to creativity, a form of castration capable of killing originality. Now, the world of advertising comes to me because the ideas I defend happen to sell well. But I will not have my name linked to debatable products. I only accept that which offers a platform for my own convictions like Destination Earth, the short television programs we did with EDF. We write the scripts ourselves and have so far steered clear of major compromises. Sure, the document about Tchernobyl caused a stir. But we came out on top. Every night, thanks to these short films, people get to hear about sustainable development. I am quite satisfied with this sort of publicity; in my view, Destination Earth is not an advert for EDF, but EDF is advertising sustainable development instead. And if the French Electricity Board builds up its image because of it, good for them."

  • Pedagogy

    "You cannot spend ten years flying over the Earth, read heaps of books on sustainable development, and remain unchanged. Naturally, you come out transformed, with serious questions about our common future as inhabitants of this planet. The educational purpose underlying my work aims at making people aware of present environmental issues. I love this Earth, passionately. This is the big bonus of my profession. It taught me to better appreciate my environment and its inhabitants. And it made me curious. The captions I wanted to add to the photos came from the need to find answers to my own questioning. I wanted to understand what I took pictures of, and then to share what I had seen and learnt with the public at large. I believe that the need to convince, to pass on one's passions and ideas, is deeply ingrained in human nature."

  • Fear

    "The outcome of a photograph always leaves me with the same fear. I feel as helpless and anxious today as I did when I started. Experience does not help that much. I always try to do better. And, the more famous you are, the more threatened you feel. There is the nagging thought that, maybe, you have reached a position you did not entirely deserve, the vague notion of being a fraud."

  • Models

    "At my age, having a one and only model is a thing of the past; maybe I am aware that finding one's ideals embodied in a single person is akin to utopia... I have great admiration for people whose words are generous and who translate them into action in everyday life people such as accomplished Buddhists whose life is consistent with their philosophy..."