CNN Photos

View from above: Nature and civilization collide

Side effects often carry a negative connotation. Depression is a common side effect of cancer; smog is a side effect of emissions.

But what about the alteration of land, such as wind turbines or man-made lakes? Are they negative as well?

In his new book “Side Effects,” aerial photographer Kacper Kowalski took to the skies to paint a portrait of the complex relationship between humans and nature.

From the sky, he captured where nature and civilization collide into aesthetic, abstract colors and shapes.

His images question whether there is a simple, unambiguous answer to whether human impact on the natural world is good or bad. Kowalski depicts landfills and waste spills just as beautifully as snow-covered orchards and autumn leaves.

The dichotomy requires a concentrated level of analysis. The storytelling is not evident on first glance, nor detailed in captions. Instead, he wants the viewers to “use their imagination, to think.”

“Sometimes the pictures resemble drawings,” Kowalski said. “Sometimes they are like maps with traces of human presence on the Earth.” But he said they will appear different to each viewer.

Kowalski, a jack of many trades, combined his piloting passion with his architectural degree to map his native Poland from above its natural and urban landscapes.

“I don't need diverse, exotic locations,” he said. “I just need time. I want to capture mechanisms — how the places change, what people do. In a sense, I'm trying to photograph the time.”

Peering out of a paraglider or a gyroplane, Kowalski noted there is not much natural landscape left in Poland.

“Even forests, meadows and lakes are modified by people,” he said. “On the one hand, it is caused of course by the development of the civilization, economy, etc. But on the other, I think it is an atavism — a need to leave a trace, a visible sign, to immortalize oneself.”

For Kowalski, flying is just as important in the process as shooting photos. When flying, he immerses himself in the landscape below, “feeling the space,” he said.

Although he cannot build a relationship with the surroundings as he could in classical photography, he said “what I can do, however, is evoke people’s emotions through symbolic and common places, shown in a radically aesthetic way.

“This beauty may be controversial, but it helps them to understand what they see.”

- Michelle Cohan, CNN