Africa on the Fly

Dangling from a paraglider with a propeller on his back, photographer George Steinmetz gets a new perspective on Africa.

Abigail Tucker in Smithsonian Magazine:

ScreenHunter_06 Jan. 17 09.34 “Most aerial photographers work from helicopters or little planes, but he goes up on this crazy little thing,” says Ruth Eichhorn, director of photography for the German edition of GEO, one of many magazines, including Smithsonian, that has published Steinmetz's work. “He can go very low, so he can photograph people in the landscape, and he will go to places that nobody else will go. It's very, very dangerous work, but I think it's worth it.”

Steinmetz's aircraft—he calls it “a flying lawn chair”—consists of a nylon paraglider, a harness and a backpack-mounted motor with a large propeller that looks like an industrial fan. “I am the fuselage,” he explains. To lift off, he spreads the glider on the ground, cranks up the motor and runs a few steps when the right gust of wind comes along. Then, traveling 30 miles per hour, he can dip into craters and get close enough to thousands of sunbathing fur seals to smell their fishy breath.

It might be easy to dismiss him as a real-life Icarus, the winged rogue of Greek myth who soared too near the sun. But Steinmetz flies to get closer to the earth; his Africa pictures convey a kind of intimacy that comes only with a certain distance. His perspective is lofty but not detached, and it's informed by his love of geophysics, which he studied as an undergraduate at Stanford University.

More here.