This Labor Day Weekend, thousands of Americans will begin one final migration to the local beach, in what will doubtless be their last chance to enjoy some sun and surf before a gray half-year of winter sets in.
On ground level, these crowds look like tidal waves of coconut-oiled flesh, but as seen in the work of Belgian photographer Antoine Rose, the effect is much different: from above, the crowds that gather on the beaches of New York and Miami take on splendid geometries that make each beachgoer’s place in the sand seem almost methodical.
The project that eventually became Rose’s Up In The Air series started back in 2000, when he was head photographer of the Kiteboarding World Cup. Using a helicopter to film kiteboarders as they raced, Rose became fascinated with aerial photography. But it was only after flying over the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana during a kiteboarding final in Rio that Rose turned his lens from athletes to beachcombers, snapping the herd-like patterns of their oiled hides and colorful beach towels and umbrellas from the air.
In many cases, Rose’s photos look almost orchestrated, the human equivalent of things organized neatly. The photographer insists he doesn’t coordinate his shots, nor does he alter them after the fact with Photoshop, aside from some standard color correction and post-processing. The beaches appear to us just as Rose saw them leaning out of the side of a helicopter with his camera pointed down.
The process of shooting out of a helicopter this way can be dangerous–Rose tells of a near miss with an Air Canada jet during one of his shoots–but with the help of the right pilot and safety equipment, Rose has managed to capture some astonishing images. If you’re at the beach this weekend, look up. You might be doing more than catching some sun. You might be a silent partner in a work of art.