Looking at the Planet from Above Changes Everything

Something interesting happens when a human being gains enough distance from the Earth and looks back: it’s called “the overview effect,” and it’s characterized by a shift in perspective and understanding. Seeing the planet from high above can induce empathy, awe and a sense of our shared responsibility for the place where we live. These are the things that Benjamin Grant hopes to instill in followers of his Instagram account, Daily Overview. We sat down with the founder of this hugely successful Instagram account to learn more about his mission to share this fresh perspective of the planet online.

April 20, 2020
Aerial view of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France.

enRoute Where did the idea for Overview begin?
 

Benjamin Grant In 2013, I was working at a consulting firm in New York City. It was a wonderful place with a lot of smart people, but no one was really sharing ideas. I decided to start a space club at my office, thinking it was a good way to get people talking about something other than work for once. But in the midst of preparing a talk for space club about satellites and how satellites work, I discovered that I had the ability to create these overhead images.

At first, I was taking them from the public domain using the Apple Maps service but then I had this amazing discovery that these images were out there and could be treated as photography – just adding a different level of artistry to them.

I had learned about the idea known as “the overview effect” (which has been the underlying mission of the project from the very beginning) and wanted to inspire this psychological awakening that astronauts have from this vantage point of the Earth. They see our planet floating in space and they get this new definition of what home is and what it means to be a human being. That was very profound for me.

Aerial view of Mount Fuji in Japan
Aerial view of the intricate grid of buildings in Barcelona, Spain
Mount Fuji, Japan.
Barcelona, Spain.

ER What do you think people can learn by viewing the planet from this vantage point?
 

BG There’s something inherently intriguing and powerful about looking at the world this way. Aerial photography has been around for decades but there’s something that is fascinating about scale and perception when you zoom out.

We’ve always guided our stories to curate the world and showcase something that begins with a “wow” moment followed by the “a-ha” when they read the description. It was cool to see from the very beginning that it had this kind of infectious grasp on people’s creativity and imagination.

Aerial view of the Juruá River running through the green terrain of South America
Aerial view of the salt and clay pans Sossusvlei in Namibia
Juruá River, South America.
Sossusvlei, Namibia.
Aerial view of the waves crashing onto a beach in Perth, Australia
Perth, Australia.

ER What do you look for in an image?
 

BG From the very beginning, we focused on the man-made world. Guided by storytelling, we looked at themes like transportation or ways humans were innovating. The ideal combination is finding an image that pulls you with geometric shapes or colours and interesting subject matter.
 

ER What kinds of imagery do you find resonate most strongly with your audience? Why do you think that is?
 

BG If I had to break it down to one category, I’d say imagery of cities. Philosophically, it is interesting that we’re fascinated with the things we have created. But I think there’s also – and this connects to travel – cities and places that people love and that they’ve been to before and they have such a strong feeling for. Cities like Paris, New York, London, Los Angeles, places where people have been that they see in this brand-new way. Even if you’ve explored the streets of Paris or walked around New York City, when you see it all at once from this grand scale, it takes on this whole new meaning and connects you to other people.

Aerial view of the busy city of Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakesh, Morocco.
An aerial view of the clifftop homes of Valparaíso, Chile
Valparaíso, Chile.

ER What do you think that Overview reveals about the world?
 

BG If you can view it without a value judgment and just think about cities as they exist and how they’ve been these organisms that have grown and been planned and evolved over hundreds of years, they’re kind of this basic component of our civilization. Cities are only going to become more popular and denser in the future, so they’re a challenge we need to face in an ever-growing, ever-complex world.

There’s a lot of ingenuity that goes into it that can be appreciated through satellite photography and that we hope can inspire people to create a better world. Above all, I think that’s what this project is able to accomplish – getting people to learn about things that they never knew of before or to see them in a new way.

Aerial view of buildings in Mexico City forming an octagonal grid
Mexico City, Mexico.

ER What’s next for Overview?
 

BG We are in the final creative stages of our next book, which I’m super excited about. It’s called Timelapse and it will be out in the fall. It’s similar to our first book but adding in the element of time. Government agencies and satellite and aerial imagery companies have libraries and archives of imagery that sometimes go back decades. We curated and created images that show the Earth from this perspective but focusing on the same location over many years to show what changes occur to look at time in a thought-provoking manner.
 
 

For more views of the planet from way, way up, take a look at the back page of Air Canada enRoute Magazine.

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