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Artist from the air

JOHN GREEN looks forward to the first exhibition in Britain of a great landscape photographer

You hardly realise you are looking at images of our world when gazing upon Alex MacLean's aerial photographs.

These are not simply "photos from the air" like the ones often produced by run-of-the-mill commercial photographers. McLean's have the compelling simplicity and beauty of great abstract art.

MacLean is a US photographic artist, best known for the aerial photography in which he has specialised. The apparent simplicity of his photos betrays an incredibly keen eye for the extraordinary, the aesthetic and the graphic.

He became interested in aerial scenery after studying community planning and, soon after, established a company to provide illustrative aerial photography for architects, landscape designers, urban planners and environmentalists.

Our world, seen through his lens, is made up of patterns, juxtapositions of vivid colour palettes and astounding constellations of artefacts.

Dinghies clustered around a dock in a Massachusetts harbour become flower petals gathered on a black meniscus and a modern housing estate in the Las Vegas desert looks like an ancient Aztec settlement.

A channel in the bay of California is transformed into a pied, sinuous serpent, while shipping containers have the dinky quality of carefully laid-out blocks of children's Lego.

A dump for military aircraft in Arizona looks like a graveyard for butterflies but it is also a reminder of the waste of the armaments industry.

MacLean's images are taken some 5,000 feet above the Earth from a highly fuel-efficient carbon-fibre Cessna aeroplane which he flies himself.

While they document humanity's footprint on the natural world, they are much more than this. They portray the history and evolution of the land from vast agricultural patterns to city grids, recording changes brought about by human intervention and natural processes.

Apart from being exceedingly beautiful, even awe-inspiring, they also make you realise how indelibly humanity is changing the face of the Earth in the most surprising fashion.

Like all great art, MacLean's images make the viewer look anew at the environment surrounding us. Few have the luxury of seeing our world from the air in this way, yet these images force us to reflect on how humanity is creating its own world as a palimpsest over the original with all the wonder and disquiet this provokes.


Aerial Perspectives by Alex MacLean, the first-ever exhibition of his work in Britain, runs from March 3-29 at Beetles & Huxley, 3-5 Swallow St, London W1. Free. Opening times: (020) 7434-4319.


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