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Empty Quarter: A Photographic Journey to the Heart of the Arabian Desert Hardcover – November 1, 2009
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From travelling around the edges, I was expecting a lot of empty. I wasn't expecting the people and wildlife who live there now - and ruins which show people have lived there for a long time.
The book benefits from Steinmetz being a celebrity photographer. Otherwise he would not have got permission and support from the Saudi government and others. Most of us could never get to these places let alone take great photographs.
Strapping a motor to his back and suspended from a paraglider, Steinmetz, who was clearly mesmerized and haunted by the exploits of early British explorers such as Thesiger, flew over areas off limits in more ways than one to tourists or journalists. The long introduction--which spins off a tale of intrigue about how George managed to parlay his own lifetime wish to document the world's deserts--involves a Saudi astronaut, GEO magazine, the National Geographic, and a French paraglider expert; and after numerous side trips you realize that this only happened because of one man's insistence on following his dreams.
Those who have followed Steinmetz's career will recognize the low level aerial perspective which he uses to its fullest effect in this book. Unlike other aerial photographers, Steinmetz could more aptly be described as being suspended above his subject, often flying at less than 25 miles an hour, at altitudes seldom over five hundred to a thousand feet. Limited in distance by only by a few liters of fuel for the paraglider's motor, Steinmetz spent months crisscrossing the desert, photographing in areas which may never again be photographed in this way. Ironically, his journeys to this "world apart" began soon after 911; yet as George writes, in some ways that may have opened doors that might otherwise have remained closed.
Unlike his first book, "African Air," Steinmetz's love of photography supersedes his love of "flying," and almost supersedes his love of the desert; and he is wise here to spend much of his time on the ground, whether it's getting marooned on the side of a giant dune, or photographing gas flare towers at the edge of this universe of sand, or sheiks with falcons on their wrists racing into the wind, or simply abstract arrows on long roads and intersections going off to nowhere, or everywhere.
It is tempting to make comparisons, or to use metaphors, to think of Icarus or at least Philippe Petit in the documentary "Man on Wire." But that would be pretentious, and it is best to simply think of "George" as George, of a man crazy enough to get arrested not once but three times in Iran, and who has crashed in China, and soared with birds over Antarctica. And who has produced this inspiring, glorious book that shows in detail a world that until now has remained hidden from our eyes.