Desert Air

By George Steinmetz

Abrams, 2012; 352 pages, $45.00

Choose one of the most arid deserts in the world, travel there (often not an easy task), strap a gasolinepowered propeller to your back, and parasail off into the blue to snap panoramas of the barrenness below. (Local authorities may also try to arrest you for spying.) Does this sound a bit wacko? It’s what George Steinmetz has been doing for the past fifteen years, and when you see the breathtaking photographs in this hefty new collection of his work, you’ll be glad that he was crazy enough to do it. And if you think that one sand dune looks pretty much like another, you will find each image a unique delight. The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica provide a subtle abstraction in shades of white, gray, and brown. The green-blue shades of Lake Assal, more briny than the Dead Sea, look like a delicate watercolor against the tans and auburns of the Djibouti desert. The intricate white tessellations of the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia are as psychedelic as an Escher design. And these landscapes aren’t all uninhabited abstractions—the paraglider provides an intimate view of the patterned movements of camels, zebras, flamingos, and humans.

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