Vincent Laforet: AIR Project flies down under

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Published:  August 3, 2015
Eloise Mahoney

US based award-winning photographer and filmmaker Vincent Laforet has been flying around America and the world to capture a series of incredible aerial photos to add to his most recent project: AIR. Using the latest technology from Canon, Vincent takes beautifully detailed, crisp and clear images of each city from high altitudes. His photography skills are literally on another level and just recently he brought the AIR project down under to share his passion for photography and AIR philosophy with Australians.
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The AIR project according to Vincent could not have been possible two or so years ago. Thanks to advanced sensor technology and cameras like the newly-designed Canon EOS 5DS coming into the market, Vincent has produced never before seen images of cityscape lights at night. The AIR project has been a natural and organic process for Vincent, growing overtime to become an international project. While spending time in Australia Vincent got up high and snapped Sydney from down below and hosted Directing Motion workshops in both Sydney and Melbourne. Vincent took some time off from his busy schedule to chat with desktop about what life is like as a jet-setting photographer, the reason behind the AIR project and if he’s afraid of heights…

Firstly, what inspired you to become an aerial photographer?
It’s been about a decade, I’ve been a photographer for about 25 years actually. I worked for the New York Times for about 8 years and I started aerial photography back then. It was something they asked me to do in the course of being a photojournalist and I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now.

Is it scary being in the helicopter? I’m assuming you are not afraid of heights…
I’ve been doing it for 10 years, but the reality is I’m more nervous walking along the edge of a bridge or over an overpass where the guard-rails are up to my knees than I am in a helicopter for some reason. I feel very comfortable up there, it’s extremely stable for the most part and generally speaking I’ve rarely been afraid in a helicopter. I call it the magic carpet ride of sorts. When you’re up at some very high altitudes, like when we were in Las Vegas at 12 thousands feet, which I think is 3.6 kilometres, that was a little more scary than usual. And a lot of the high altitude flights are a bit daunting given that you are seeing flights landing underneath you at the major airports.

New York City by Vincent Laforet

New York City by Vincent Laforet

Los Angeles by Vincent Laforet

Los Angeles by Vincent Laforet

Tell us a little more about your latest aerial project. Why did you decide to call it AIR?
I was trying to find a title that spoke to the fact that obviously we are in the air and more importantly air is something that everyone shares. It doesn’t belong to anybody, it doesn’t matter who you are, you all breathe the same air, no matter what socio economic background you’re from and we are all responsible for it. This project in general just happened naturally, it wasn’t part of a master plan of any sorts. These images were put out and seen by 40 million people within a month and shared by a lot of people with others. So it’s been a very organic process that has grown overtime to become an international project.

AIR just seemed like an apt description for the project, that has a sort of universal message. One of the main themes behind this project is that when you’re in just about any major city looking up at the skyscrapers your feel somewhat insignificant but when you see these cities from the air, everything seems within much more reach. People are much more connected than they realise and AIR seemed like a good description.

London from above

London by Vincent Laforet

San Fransicso

San Francisco by Vincent Laforet

Can you explain how new technology and cameras like the Canon EOS 5DS are making it possible to capture these images from above?
This is the perfect storm, in that these cameras with these sensors have been in the market for the past one or two years only. You couldn’t have taken these images to one and a half years ago because the sensors were not sensitive enough to light. And at the same time cities have been modernising their lights to more energy efficient LED that are brighter and have different colours. So had we tried to shoot this two years ago, maybe three we would not have seen the same effect at all.

Another great example of that is when I shot London in 2007 at night and it was just too dark to shoot. There was absolutely no colour and since the Olympics and a variety of other events they have completely modernised that city to look significant at night. We just shot Sydney and the same thing was true, there was a great variety of lighting when you go above the city and you look down into the avenues so it’s what I would call the perfect storm in that also if I shoot this in five years from now there is a good likelihood that many of the cities may have converted in lighting and it will be all monochromatic again. So it’s the perfect time right now.

You’re also busy hosting camera and cinematic motion workshops called Directing Motion. Why you are so passionate about teaching your craft to others?
I was the first person to shoot with the Canon 5D-Mark II back in 2008. And teaching has been a big part of what I’ve done throughout my career. As a photojournalist, you know, we didn’t have formal education so would often learn what we did from mentors, so the idea of giving back is kind of part and parcel of what and how photojournalist learn and teach. So I decided a year ago to do this tour, called Directing Motion tour in the United States and we did it here in Australia, in Sydney and we just talk more about the craftsmanship of directing. A lot of us are so focused on the technology these days that we forget so quickly that there is a mind and knowledge and craftsmanship.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas by Vincent Laforet

London

London by Vincent Laforet

Do you think the rise of new technology and camera phones challenges the art of photography?
Well I think it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand the beauty of the technology is that it’s the ultimate equaliser, everyone has access to it, we can make some great images which a few years ago were very difficult to make. On the other end of it, it’s providing us a tool that will allow us to produce projects like AIR. You literally could not have shot AIR two years ago on a technical level. It was just impossible and I think at the end of the day, the technology will ultimately become less relevant, and the way people use it and the ideas behind the projects that they produce, the passion and the way they tell their stories will come back to the forefront of everything.

So photography is really all about the storytelling…
It’s always about the storytelling, its about the quality of the story that you have to tell, that you found and how you tell it. And the tools are very important, if you don’t have to right tools they can inhibit you and at the same time the tools are just that and you can’t rely on tools alone. I think we are at a period of time right now where there may be too much emphasis on the tools and on technology but ultimately those who do produce good stories and content know that it’s a little bit more than the latest gadget.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles by Vincent Laforet

Do you have any other passions besides photographing and filming?
I’m not sure what spare time is… I have two wonderful kids that I love to spend time with, I love to scuba dive, music and the arts in general. But you know, realistically between directing commercials, this AIR project and some public speaking, my schedule has been pretty slammed this year, so yes a little bit of quiet and a vacation is hopefully in my near future.

Where is the next destination that the AIR project will take you?
I would love to shoot in cities such as Rio, Dubai and even some of the smaller cities, but it’s a very expensive project. The next step for the AIR project is at the end of it, producing a book, which should be out later this month. You can pre-order the book at laforetair.com

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Keep an eye out on for his Sydney AIR project images over at http://www.laforetair.com

Image of Vincent by ©Dustin Snipes
All other images by ©Vincent Laforet

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