These Bleak Winter Photos Imagine A World Without Humans

A Polish photographer asks us to ponder our extinction through a series of eerie images.

On the coldest winter days, right after a heavy snowstorm–when no one else is likely to be outside–Poland-based photographer Kacper Kowalski climbs into a gyrocopter and starts flying 500 feet above the ground. He wants to imagine what the world would look like without people.


“In my photographs, I don’t show the apocalypse, but perhaps what came after the apocalypse,” says Kowalski. “I imagine people have become extinct due to a terrible disease. Or maybe a famine. Pollution may have poisoned us. We could have used up all our resources. Or perhaps we are living somewhere in space, in a colony on Mars. Or deep underground.”

He wants viewers to imagine what might have led to the scene. “It’s also worth considering what you would do to escape the world,” he says. “Would you migrate? Would you maybe you build your own Matrix, pretending as if nothing happened? I cannot answer the question verbally; I do it visually.”

The scenes show Polish landscapes but are often abstract and unrecognizable. “I haven’t given titles or captions to any of these photographs,” he says. “I want them to be free of context. The pictures have more impact without those clues. They make you think more and look for your own answers. “

In a previous project, Side Effects, Kowalski documented the conflict between humans and nature. The new series, Over, goes a step farther, imagining that the conflict has been settled: Humans are gone.

“[The photos] are more abstract and there’s a sense of timelessness, where only ‘here and now’ exists,” he says. “You can see some of the traces that humans left behind, but you can’t know from how long ago. You can feel that humans were here, but they are nowhere to be seen. These places hold secrets. When I fly over this landscape–and I imagine that the humans are gone–it feels like uncharted territory, like it needs a map. And I am drawing this map now, as if I were the first person to see Earth like this.”

The series is now up in an exhibit called Fade to White at the Curator Gallery in New York City.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.