‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was one of the first books I read as a child. It is the story of a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert who meets a young prince fallen to Earth from a tiny planet. The prince famously and absurdly asks the stranded pilot, “Please…Draw me a sheep.”
Inspired by Saint-Exupéry books, I too chose to become an airline pilot. From 1926 until his death in a plane crash in 1943, Saint-Exupéry experienced the world from above, over longer times and distances than others before him. His novels and memoirs are replete with descriptions of mountains, oceans, rivers, and storms. He vividly described the beauty of the world and the formidable challenges facing the pilots of his time. And just as important was his perspective on humanity, and its beauty and challenges. He wrote about the people he met on his adventures, and about the struggles of living in an unforgiving environment.
This series of high altitude aerial photographs from the upper boundary of the troposphere, around thirty-five thousand feet high, offers a perspective of our modern world influenced by Saint-Exupéry. From that ideal height, the beauty of the natural world and the accomplishments of our civilization combine to form mesmerizing scenes. His books left me with the impression that humanity lived concentrated in pockets of civilization separated by almost insurmountable obstacles and vast expanses of wilderness. But clearly visible from high above, more than ninety years after Saint-Exupéry first flew and two hundred years after the industrial revolution, is the enormous impact humanity has had on its environment through large scale alterations of the land. It is not the case any longer that we live on isolated islands of civilization; we live in an interconnected network of infrastructures sprawled across continents. As human population relentlessly grows, only the most arid and rugged regions appear to be awaiting Mankind’s new design.
As Saint-Exupéry explains in ‘The Little Prince’, there were “about two billion grown-ups” in the nineteen-thirties. Today, Earth is home to seven and a half billion of us. The little prince left a planet that was too small to sustain him – an option we don’t have. He cared for his one rose and his three volcanoes as we should for everything that makes Earth our only home.
Luc Busquin was born in Belgium where he lived until 2002 when he relocated to Phoenix, Arizona. He has pursued his interest in photography and his fascination for the sky since childhood. He first learned to fly at age sixteen and has been an airline pilot for more than twenty years. Before becoming a pilot, he started photographing from above by attaching a camera to a remote-controlled airplane. In his series ‘Atop the Troposphere’, he is uniting these passions to create a unique vision of the world above us, its relationship to the land below and its inhabitants. His work has been shown at the Aperture gallery in New-York, and the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. His first solo exhibit took place last July at Camerawork Gallery in Portland, Oregon.