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Photographer-Geologist Wants His Art to Reconnect Viewers to Earth
When he's not practicing medicine or writing geology books, the energetic Michael Collier is flying his 52-year-old single-engine Cessna 180 to remote regions of the Americas to capture breath-taking aerial images of mountain ranges, coastlines, volcanoes and glaciers.
Collier believes that as Americans have become more urbanized, we've lost our sense of connection to the earth. He wants to reintroduce us to geology, he said: "I want to go out and see beautiful landscapes and portray stories about landscapes."
As part of the introduction, Collier will show 45 of his geological images at an exhibit of his work at the AAAS Gallery. The exhibit, titled "Stones from the Sky: Landscapes of Geology," is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Institute (AGI) and will open on 7 June at 6 p.m. with a presentation by Collier. A reception will follow and will include the signing of Collier's new book, Over the Mountains: An Aerial View of Geology. It is the first book in a series, published by Mikaya Press, that will feature rivers, coastlines, volcanoes and glaciers.
Sheep Mountain, Wyoming
(color photograph, 20" x 27")
While working towards undergraduate and graduate degrees in geology in the 1970s, Collier was doing freelance photography and writing. With photography, he had stumbled upon a passion that would consume his life. But medicine called out to him as well, leading Collier to become a family practice physician.
Despite the rigorous demands of medical school Collier took pictures for National Geographic Traveler magazine and wrote a book on the Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, one of about a dozen that he has written or contributed his aerial photography to throughout his life. These days, Collier works as a family doctor four days out of every two weeks in a town west of his hometown of Flagstaff, Ariz. When he's not seeing patients, Collier can be found in the sky leaning out of the window of his Cessna taking pictures of the Rio Grande, which flows from Colorado to Texas; the Eureka Valley Dunes in Eastern California; or Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.
"I think it's worth convincing lay people that there's a depth to the natural landscape and that may lead people to want to protect it," Collier said. As far as communicating the value of the natural world to people through his pictures, Collier said he's content to catch someone's eye and make them stop and say, "'Gee, I didn't know glaciers look like that.'"
"If I make them look at the caption, too, and learn something, then I've done my job," Collier said.
Collier's photographs have appeared in dozens of books, as well as in major magazines and newspapers. He has received the AGI's Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Pubic Understanding of Geosciences, won the National Outdoor Book Award, the National Park Service Director's Award and the U.S. Geological Survey's Communications Award.
P. Patrick Leahy, AGI's executive director said that the Institute is pleased to be a co-sponsor of the "Stones from the Sky" exhibit. "Michael Collier's skill with a camera and ability to capture the 'right light' yields aerial photography that truly shows the beauty of our planet and the wonder of its geologic processes," he said.
The AAAS Gallery is located at 12th and H streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C. It is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
5 June 2007