Aerial Photography Like You've Never Seen It Before

Kacper Kowalski's images challenge a viewer's perceptions of beauty

A view from above: Kacper Kowalski captures a landscape's patterns, both natural and manmade.
A view from above: Kacper Kowalski captures a landscape's patterns, both natural and manmade.
Courtesy of Kacper Kowalski and the Curator Gallery

It's not every day that an image literally stops us in our tracks. But that's the immediate reaction most people have to the work of Polish photographer Kacper Kowalski: a double-take, a visceral pull, and then an extended moment of contemplative wonder. And that's before you even realize the story and tension behind the pictures. Opening on Earth Day, April 22, and running through May 30 at the Curator Gallery in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, Above &Beyond: The Photographs of Kacper Kowalski is the artist's first solo American exhibition. The show is curated by former LIFE magazine editor-in-chief Bill Shapiro.

Kowalski has an architect's passion for composition and form, no surprise given his training in that field. Rather than designing buildings, however, he designs abstract, ethereal visions—made even more complicated and compelling by the knowledge of what these landscapes entail. As the title of his award-winning series Toxic Beauty implies, many of his images are bird's-eye views of the effect modern civilization has had on the environment. From power plants, coal mines, and landfills to pristine lakes hidden deep in forests, each image is offered up without judgment for our own personal interpretation. As Kowalski says, "In the air, I only have my instruments; there are no captions on the ground to help me make sense of what I'm looking at."

About those flights: they take place on a self-piloted paraglider or a gyroplane, a mini-helicopter with an open cockpit. With his digital SLR camera, Kowalski might shoot the same areas at different seasons or times of day, often just after it has rained, which produces the intensity of color visible in many of his works. For more information about the photographer and his process, watch this video made by European news agency Euromaxx. And head to the Curator Gallery to be moved in person by one man's otherworldly vision of our world.

Aerial Photography Like You've Never Seen It Before
I'm the former Executive Editor of Lonny.
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