Past from Above: George Gerster

I went to Georg Gerster’s exhibition ‘Past from Above’ at the British Museum over the weekend. As the title might suggest the exhibition is a collection of photographs of archaeological and historical landmarks shot from the air. Gerster suggests

“Height provides an overview. And an overview facilitates insight, while insight generates consideration.”

Some of the photos don’t really fit this perspective however, shot with such a zoom that an overview isn’t actually provided. For example the shot of the Minaret of the Great Mosque at Samarra, Iraq (see it here). What’s the scale of this building? What’s the context? This shot is from above but it doesn’t provide an overview. I get the feeling some the shots like this might have provided more insight if they’d been taken from a location on the ground.

However, this aside there are some images that really show off the context of the archaeological sites well. Whether it be the grand locations of derelict temples or the juxtaposition of sweeping, fluid sand dunes encroaching upon and over the geometric remains of a dead city. These are the shots that do provide some insight into what the past might have been like, how the landscape may have been different from today, and how it is still changing now.

Obviously some of these images are very reminiscent of Yann Arthus Bertrand and his “Earth from Above” project, and browsing Gerster’s website I think I actually prefer some of his shots of contemporary landscape patterns – both those imposed by humans and those of a more natural origin.

Overall, the exhibition was an interesting way to spend 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon – but some of the shots didn’t quite fit the ethos of the exhibition.

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