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Yet again, the National Geographic Society has mounted a photography exhibit that doesn’t just wow you with imagery; it also boasts a crazy backstory. In “Desert Air,” Nat Geo offers 15 years’ worth of George Steinmetz’ stunning aerial views of landscapes, along with the motorized paraglider he uses to make them—-a 90-pound contraption that goes 30 miles per hour after getting aloft with a running start.
It’s in this rickety-looking vehicle that Steinmetz works his visual magic, from the Sahara to the Dead Sea to Antarctica. So many of his images are stunning that it’s hard to know where to begin: the emerald, beige and chocolate hues of evaporation pools; the delicately cracked salt deposits of Bolivia; the peaceful baby blues of a thin layer of floodwater in the South American flats; unreal green algae blooms in a rust-colored wasteland in Ethiopia; tiny farms tucked inside fragile bowls of sand in the Algerian desert; flamingos cavorting in black-hued water in Iran; and an impossibly cramped neighborhood of multicolored houses set into a hill in Algeria.
While Steinmetz’ still images are striking enough, his video of barchans—-the crescent-shaped dunes that shift and move throughout the desert driven by wind patterns—-adds another welcome dimension. Steinmetz, in his narration, notes that barchans are remarkably similar to living beings, even dividing and breeding. Seeing the video, it’s hard to disagree.
The exhibit is on view to Jan. 27, 2013 at National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 857-7588.