Yann Arthus-Bertrand  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand (born March 13, 1946 in Paris) is a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist.


Early life

Yann Arthus-Bertrand was born in Paris on March 13, 1946 in a renowned jewellers' family founded by Claude Arthus-Bertrand and Michel-Ange Marion. His sister Catherine is one of his closest collaborators. He's been interested in nature and wildlife from an early age.

First jobs

He became a director assistant when he was 17 in 1963, then actor in movies. He played alongside famous actors such as Michèle Morgan in ‘Dis-moi qui tuer' (1965) by Etienne Perier and in 'OSS 117 prend des vacances’ by Pierre Kalfon (1970).

He gave up the movie industry in 1967 to run the Château de Saint Augustin wildlife park in Château sur Allier (centre of France). He then left the country with his wife Anne when he was 30 (1976) to live in Kenya in the Massai Mara national park. He lived amongst the Massai tribe for 3 years to study the behaviour of a lions’ family and took daily pictures of them during those years. He thus discovered a new passion for photography and the beauty of landscapes when observed from above in hot air balloons. He understood the power of a picture and how to communicate using this means.

He came back to France in 1981, published a photographs book 'Lions' in 1983, and became an international journalist, reporter and photographer specialised in documentaries on sports, wildlife and aerial photography for French magazines such as Paris Match and Geo. He photographed ten Paris-Dakar rallies. Every year he published a book on Roland Garros, the tennis French open. He also took pictures every year at the Paris International Agricultural Show, and of Dian Fossey and gorillas in Rwanda.

Aerial photography

He founded the Altitude Agency in 1991, which was the world's first press agency and images bank specialising in aerial photography (500,000 pictures taken in more than 100 countries by more than 100 photographers).

In 1994 Arthus-Bertrand started a thorough study on the state of the Earth sponsored by UNESCO. As part of the study, he made a picture inventory of the world's most beautiful landscapes, taken from helicopters and hot-air balloons. The book from this project, Earth from Above (‘la Terre vue du ciel’) sold over 3 million copies and was translated into 24 languages.

In 2000, his "Earth from Above" free exhibition was set up on numerous big posters on the gates of Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris. It then travelled worldwide from Lyon to Montreal, to 110 cities and was visited by 120 million people.

In 2008, Earth from Above was released on DVD.

Ecologic involvement

On July 1, 2005, he founded the international environmental organisation GoodPlanet, and set up the program Action Carbone to offset his own greenhouse gas emissions generated by his helicopter transports. Since then this program has evolved to help people and companies to reduce and offset their climate impact by funding projects on renewable energies, energy efficiency and reforestation.

Since then, the organisation has been involved in several projects:

  • School posters: posters are distributed for free in every French school on a different environmental theme each year (sustainable development in 2006, biodiversity in 2007 and energy in 2008).
  • 6 billion Others: a video exhibition took place in early 2009 at the Grand Palais in Paris. Over 5,000 videos were shown. They were recorded around the globe showing women and men talking about universal themes such as happiness, sorrow, life, death, love, hatred and so on.
  • Alive: a photographs exhibition that travels around the world with a text display describing the impact of man on the environment
  • Good Planet Info: international news website on the environment
  • Good Planet Junior: some holiday trips in protected areas offered to children to teach them how to preserve the environment
  • Good Planet Conso: a non profit website to help people adopting a more environmentally-friendly way of life

Yann Arthus-Bertrand was made a Knight of the Légion d'honneur (national order of the legion of honour) and a Knight of the Ordre du Mérite Agricole (national order of agricultural merit). He was also made Officer of the Ordre National du Mérite (national order of merit) by President Nicolas Sarkozy in June 2008. Moreover he was elected alongside Lucien Clergue at the Académie des Beaux Arts (academy of fine arts).

In 2006, he launched a series of documentaries called Vu du ciel (‘seen from above’) for the French public channels. The 5th episode was aired in December 2007 and was about agriculture.

In 2006 he published Algeria from above which he considers as one of his best works so far. This book offers a brand new view on this country.

In April 2007 he started directing a movie firstly called Boomerang. He later changed the title into Home. The movie is produced by Luc Besson and financed by the PPR group (a French multinational company). It was Yann Arthus-Bertrand's intention to show the state of our planet and the challenges humanity faces. The emissions of greenhouse gases produced by the movie's shooting were offset through Yann Arthus-Bertrand's organisation GoodPlanet and its 'Action Carbone' program. On Friday June 5, 2009 he released internationally the new movie, Home, a movie about the dangers human activities create to planet earth. On the night of the release many theaters offered screening for free and a giant open-air screening at the champ-de-mars in Paris drew 20 000 spectators. Beautiful aerial photography, an omnipresent music score and great post-production make this movie more emotional than most previous movies about the subject. The simultaneous TV broadcast of the movie on France 2 TV channel drew more than 8 million people. The following Sunday, at European Elections, ecologists made an unexpectedly high score and failed short of being France's second political party. Although the poll did predict that the ecologist would make a big score at these elections, they underestimated it widely. On the night of the elections, many political commentators expressed concerns that the movie screening may have had an immense effects on the results of the elections.

Today Home is available on DVDs and free, via streaming on the internet (Arthus-Bertrand gave up his author's rights).

On March 19, 2008, he was given the Georges Pompidou Award which rewards a cultural personality each year (2006: painter Pierre Soulages, 2005: orchestra conductor William Christie).

A few schools have been named after Yann Arthus-Bertrand (primary schools of Cysoing, Noviant-aux-prés, Carentoir and Villaines sous bois, nursery schools of Cairanne and Saint-Aignan de Cramesnil as well as the Radinghem high school specialised in agriculture). He stated that it was one of the greatest honours he could receive. In 2008, he launched the project called 6 billion others. It is a video exhibition of people across the world answering the same questions.

On April 22, 2009 he was officially designated as the United Nations Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador (UNEP) and received the ‘Earth Champion’ award for his commitment towards the environment and his work on public environmental awareness.


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