The view from above onto the world

Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space. After his first space flight in 1961 , he noted: "I orbited the earth in a spaceship and saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and enhance this beauty, not destroy it!"

The German astronaut Alexander Gerst was no less enthusiastic during his mission to the ISS in 2018, but warned via Twitter from a height of 400 km: “Shocking sight. Everything dried up and brown that was supposed to be green”. He then sent a video filmed from the ISS and apologized to his future grandchildren on behalf of his generation for pollution, environmental destruction and senseless wars.

One example of war and its dramatic consequences for the world is the Iraq war of 1990: Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, to secure oil fields there. After unsuccessful negotiations, the UN Resolution 678 of November 22, 1990, was passed and soon authorized the counterattack, which lasted from January 16, 1991, until the ceasefire on February 28.

What remained, apart from tons of uranium-bearing fired ammunition and the completely destroyed drinking water system in Kuwait, were the bombed oil plants. Night and day, for weeks on end, vast quantities of crude oil poured out of the open wells. The top priority was to stop this catastrophe. Sebastião Saldago documented this laborious and ultimately successful post-war struggle: The infinite oil sludge, the smoke that turned day into night, the burning oil fields and the poisonous black mud that covered everything.

Sebastião Salgado: Capping a well head, Greater Burhan Oil Field, Kuwait, 1991 © Sebastião Salgado

Georg Gerster: Icebergs at Disko Bay (Eisberge in der Diskobucht), 1989 © Georg Gerster

Besides the immense damage to the land and the sea, the air was also affected. The fires caused gigantic amounts of pollutants to rise into the atmosphere. To this day, these pollutants contribute their part to the melting of the polar ice caps, the threat of the thawing of the permafrost soils in the tundra, the release of enormous amounts of methane, and that at some point icebergs, as documented by the aerial photographer Georg Gerster three decades ago, will be a thing of the past. Possibly including the loss of polar bears in the north and penguins in the south and hundreds of species that play a crucial role in the ecological diversity of our planet.

was born in Brazil and emigrated to Paris in 1969 because of his opposition against the military dictatorship. He initially studied economics, only to abandon his profession shortly afterwards and turn to photography. He achieved international fame with photographs of the burning oil fields of Kuwait, the genocide in Rwanda and the documentation of inhuman working conditions in gold mines. He was the first photographer to receive the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for his services to the planet in 2019.

is considered a pioneer of aerial photography and in this capacity, he was one of the most fascinating and first aerial archaeologists in the world. Gerster loved this earth and showed the beauty of our planet in beautiful photographs - but also subtly revealed some of the senselessness of human activity.