with Tom Hegen
Since 2018, German photographer Tom Hegen (previously) has been soaring above regions from western Australia and Senegal to France and Spain as he documents the vivid landscapes of salt production. His mesmerizing aerial images peer down at evaporation ponds that carve the earth into a patchwork of vibrant hues. “What attracted me was the graphic and abstract appearance of these landscapes, which almost has a painterly quality. This is also the core feature that aerial photography has to offer: an unfamiliar few at ordinary things that surround us,” Hegen shares about the project.
Spanning nearly 300 pages, a forthcoming book titled Salt Works compiles more than 160 images from the series. Although their footprints vary widely, many of the areas spotlighted approach extraction in a similar manner: Harvesters often route seawater into these fields or small pockets of land, and the sun and wind help evaporate the liquid, leaving the crystalline minerals behind. Micro bacteria tint the salt into striking pastures of rose, aqua, and ochre, transforming the areas into rich tapestries of color.
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In one hour alone, the sun pummels the earth with more power than the world uses in the span of an entire year. This staggering fact inspired German photographer Tom Hegen (previously), whose recent aerial images survey the plants harnessing this source of renewable energy. The Solar Power Series peers down at landscapes across the U.S., France, and Spain that are covered with scores of square panels—according to PetaPixel, the locations include California’s Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, Nevada’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, the Les Mées Solar Farm in France, and the PS10 Solar Power Plant and Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant, both near Seville.
Staggered in wide, circular patterns, much of the gleaming infrastructure relies on mirrors called heliostats to collect and direct the sunlight to a central station. This manner of harvesting uses the captured heat to generate steam that then produces energy, and newer solar thermal plants also apply molten salts to store the power long after the sun has set. “These man-made, constructed landscapes represent our efforts of building a more sustainable future in the most sophisticated ways,” the photographer writes.
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A follow-up to his series focused on the glow of LED-lit greenhouses, Tom Hegen’s new collection peers down on the landscape of Spain’s Almería peninsula. The German photographer is broadly interested in our impact on the earth and gears his practice toward the aerial, offering perspectives that illuminate the immense scale of human activity.
In The Greenhouse Series II, Hegen captures the abstract topographies of the world’s largest agricultural production center of its kind, which stretches across 360-square kilometers of rugged, mountainous terrain in the southern part of the country. The sun-trapping structures house plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and watermelons that provide fresh produce to much of Europe year-round.
While 30 times more productive than typical farmland in the region, the facilities also function at a cost to the local ecosystems. “Groundwater is being polluted with fertilisers and pesticides. Some 30,000 tons of plastic waste are created each year,” Hegen tells Colossal, noting that the greenhouses are made almost entirely of plastic foil, which is shredded and discarded nearby once it’s no longer useful. “From there, wind and erosion transport it to the (Mediterranean Sea).”
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German photographer Tom Hegen, who specializes in aerial photography, recently traveled to the Netherlands to document the country’s LED greenhouses. The greenhouses were developed as a response to the small country’s growing need for food both within its own borders and to the international market. Dutch exporters are second only to the U.S. industry for global food exports as measured by value. Although the greenhouses offer incredible efficiency in their design, cultivating food year-round through high temperatures and humidity levels, their round-the-clock use also gives off a great deal of light pollution. Hegen flew in a helicopter at night to capture the yellow and purple glow that the greenhouses give off, their geometric planes of illumination standing out from the dark atmosphere.
The photographer tells Colossal that his work centers around the topic of the Anthropocene (the era of human influence on Earth’s biological, geological, and atmospheric processes). “In my photography, I explore the origin and scale of that idea in an effort to understand the dimensions of man’s intervention in natural spaces and to direct attention toward how humans can take responsibility.” Hegen explains that aerial photography in particular helps convey the Anthropocene because it shows the dimensions and scale of human impact more effectively.
“I am also fascinated by the abstraction that comes with the change of perspective; seeing something familiar from a new vantage point that you are not used to,” Hegen tells Colossal. “I use abstraction and aestheticization as a language to inspire people and also to offer the viewer a connection to the subject as they need to decode what they are looking at.”
In 2018 Hegen published his first aerial photo book, HABITAT, and next year he will start working on a follow-up, the artist shares with Colossal. Keep up with Hegen’s travels and latest projects on Instagram and Behance.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.