Current Obsession: Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberte’s $35-million Vacation Photos from Space
In September 2009, Guy Laliberté dropped a reported $35 million to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and spend 11 days orbiting Earth on the International Space Station. Laliberté, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and one of the richest men in Canada, called the zero-gravity jaunt a “poetic social mission,” though “outrageously expensive, Richard Branson–esque publicity stunt” might be a more apt description. The flamboyant former busker did lend the trip some charitable gravitas by using it to promote his One Drop foundation, which focuses on water conservation in developing countries. Like any tourist, he also took thousands of photographs—from 354 kilometres above. This month, 60 of Laliberté’s vacation shots are part of an exhibition called Gaia, on display in the Distillery District. The Earth appears through his lens as a series of bizarre and haunting abstracts. Deserts in Turkmenistan and Arizona seem like details from a paint-spackled canvas. Other landscapes conjure visions of alien matter viewed through a microscope—only NASA geeks and Hubble-heads would recognize these scenes as terrestrial. Laliberté’s favourite shot is a view of the sun as it rises over the Pacific Ocean near Chile, creating a poignant sliver of blue against the blackness of space. The collection is a reminder that this planet is even bigger and stranger than an eccentric billionaire’s ego.
Guy Laliberte Went to Space and all he got were these Stunning Photographs
In September 2009, Guy Laliberté became the seventh private citizen to travel into space. “And as always, when you travel, you bring a camera,” the Cirque du Soleil founder says.
“On the ground, you plant your two feet, you fix your hands and you shoot. Up there, you’re floating, you’re trying to aim, but the tiniest movements you make set you in motion.”
“You’re travelling 25,000 kilometres an hour, so when you aim at something you better be able to focus and square your picture as fast as possible, because once your subject has passed, it’s done,” he says. “You don’t have 30 minutes to set it up.”
With his Nikon D3X and an assortment of lenses — from 200 mm all the way up to 800 mm (about the size of an amateur telescope setup) — Laliberté captured images of deserts, mountain ranges and river systems flattened from his position 350 km above the planet.
The collection of photographs Laliberté brought back to Earth were published in a book called Gaia last year, and Laliberté is now showing 60 of the photographs as a travelling exhibition, on view at the Thompson Landry Gallery in Toronto’s Distillery District.
The photos give Earth an abstract art-like accent, creating images similar to a Jackson Pollock or a Clyfford Still painting. In his lens, Laliberté spots textures, shapes, colours and geometrical patterns; it is an exploration of the Earth’s topography as one could only conduct from the heavens.
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you lay down on the grass and look at the clouds, you see animals, you see shapes,” he says. “That’s the way that I try to look at my pictures. There’s been thousands and thousands of scientific pictures of Earth; my way of looking at it was trying to find textures, organic shapes, animals and characters.”
Laliberté points at a picture of the Euphrates River running through Turkey and says, “This is my dragon.” The river cuts the red landmass into a serpentine shape. The light catches hills and mountainsides and renders them as scales.
It’s easy to see what Laliberté means when he says it’s like looking at clouds. A picture of Lake Duli Shihu in Tibet appears as a trowel full of white paint, and it drips into the land like a rivulet of mercury. Geometric window-boxes leap from the Qaidam basin in China.
Laliberté says looking down at Earth was like observing an ephemeral art exhibition. He saw beauty, but he saw fragility, too. Ultimately, his trip into space was what he calls a “poetic social mission”; his aim was to raise awareness about environmental issues.
His foundation One Drop is working toward universal access to clean water. As such, proceeds from the book and print sales of Gaia benefit the charity.
“Water is the source of life,” Laliberté says. “Everything exists only because we have water on this planet. One person dies every 20 seconds because they don’t have access to clean water. That was enough for me to start One Drop.”
GAIA: une exposition destinée à faire réfléchir
En septembre 2009, Guy Laliberté, connu pour être le fondateur du Cirque du Soleil, avait entrepris un voyage très médiatisé dans l’espace à bord de la Station spatiale internationale. Pendant onze jours, rivé au hublot, sa caméra à la main, il a pris des milliers de photos. Ce qui au départ n’était sensé être qu’un extraordinaire souvenir personnel s’est rapidement mué en exposition artistique doublée d’une mission humanitaire. L’exposition GAÏA, qui en grec ancien signifie « Terre », venait de naître.
Constituée d’une sélection des meilleurs clichés, sa prochaine escale sera à la galerie Thompson Landry du 2 août au 3 septembre. Guy Laliberté sera présent lors de la journée d’ouverture.
En fait, il serait plus juste de dire que l’exposition aura lieu dans le quartier de La Distillerie, puisque si 30 des photographies se trouveront entre les murs de la galerie, 60 autres seront à l’arrière de celle-ci, à l’extérieur, sur Gristmill Lane. L’accès à l’exposition est gratuit, mais les produits dérivés, dont notamment des livres de photographies, sont mis en vente et les profits sont remis à One Drop, un organisme sans but lucratif lancé par M. Laliberté en 2007. One Drop a pour raison d’être d’aider les plus pauvres de la planète à s’approvisionner en eau potable tout en éduquant les populations des pays développés à la problématique de l’eau.
Outre l’aspect ludique que revêt une exposition estivale en plein air, il est à remarquer que c’était peut-être la meilleure façon de concilier l’objectif de cette initiative artistique avec le lieu où elle est délivrée au public. Sur ces dizaines de photos, la Terre y est vue à 350 km d’altitude. En cela, il est déjà facile de comprendre que l’exposition s’apprécie peut-être mieux sous le ciel bleu que sous un éclairage électrique aseptisé. Qui plus est, la connotation environnementaliste et sociale des clichés justifie à elle seule leur dévoilement dans un espace ouvert.
La dimension artistique de l’œuvre ne doit cependant pas être perdue de vue. GAÏA n’est pas ce type d’évènement caritatif pour lequel on se déplace davantage pour la cause que pour le spectacle. Les photos sont réellement splendides. Sur certaines, il est aisé de distinguer, par exemple, les points d’eau, les montagnes et les constructions humaines. Sur d’autres cependant, les couleurs et le relief du sol nous font davantage penser à Mars qu’à la Terre.
L’angle inédit sous lequel ont été prises plusieurs des photos confine des paysages autrement reconnaissables à l’abstraction : les chaînes de montagnes et les terrains accidentés s’y apparentent davantage aux nervures d’une feuille d’arbre ou aux cellules d’un organe interne sous la lentille d’un microscope.
En voyant sa propre planète ainsi exposée, en jetant un regard sur des lieux à ce point immenses circonscrits dans les limites d’une photographie, le promeneur est amené à se questionner sur sa propre place dans l’Univers. D’autant plus qu’il peut constater de lui-même l’ampleur de l’assèchement de cette Terre pourtant si bleue et se demander si des petits gestes, de sa part comme des autres, ne pourraient pas faire une différence.
What’s the Meaning of This?: Gaia
Location: Thompson Landry Gallery (32 Distillery Lane); outdoor pieces are also displayed along Gristmill Lane*.
Date of display: Until Sept. 3.
What’s it supposed to be?: Turns out that, when you’re worth $2.6 billion, the sky really is the limit. At least it was for Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, who paid a reported $24 million back in Sept. 2009 to become a space tourist aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. While spending 11 days circling the Earth, Laliberté documented his extreme bird’s-eye view with a Nikon D3S camera, taking 7,500 photos of our planet from above.
Capturing Algerian deserts, Kazakh rivers, Russian peninsulas, and Tibetan lakes, Laliberté was able to create images—through the use of zoom lenses and framing—that are simple and textured, yet have an abstract quality about them. The result of his voyage is a series of 150 photos published in a book entitled Gaia (which means “Mother Earth” in ancient Greek). Now, until the end of the Labour Day weekend, 60 of the photos are on display in 5 x 8 ft. prints in and around the Distillery District’s Thompson Landry Gallery.
“Before he went into space, Guy had some training on the camera and had a few lenses with him—everything from a 200 to 800 mm—but he really didn’t know what he’d be able to capture, if anything,” says Joanne Thompson*, co-owner of the gallery. “Of course, he was able to photograph these beautiful land masses and textures, and he started to realize how fragile the Earth is, from this perspective that none of us really get.”
Having been previously displayed in Montreal and Quebec City, Laliberte’s public installation is meant to raise awareness for his ONE DROP foundation (which looks to provide developing nations access to fresh water). The touring exhibition will soon be heading to New York before it continues on to Europe, ensuring that as many people as possible are able to see what the Earth looks like from 200-plus miles away.
Guy Laliberte’s View of Earth from Space
The CEO of the Montreal circus troupe took stunning photographs of the Earth from the International Space Station as he spent 10 days in orbit, 350 km above our planet.
Sixty of his photographs are on show in the exhibit Gaia, which opened Thursday evening at the Thompson Landry Gallery in Toronto.
Quebec City-born Laliberté also created a photo book, also called Gaiaand published last year, that shows the beauty and fragility of the Earth from space.
A challenging shoot
Laliberté said he’s been carrying a camera since he was a teenager, but it was still a challenge to get the shots he wanted in space.
“You’re riding at 25,000 km/h. You’re taking pictures out of a small window. You’re in [a] weightlessness situation where taking [a] position is not easy,” he told CBC News on Thursday.
“The only advantage you have is those lenses that usually, on Earth, weigh 10 pounds weigh nothing up there. But you still have to manage to — from one eye — see your subject coming…adjusting your camera and then clicking.”
‘I see people walk in and they just stop and they’re humbled’—Joanne Thompson, gallery owner
Gallery owner Joanne Thompson said she believes Laliberté’s photos will resonate because they show a view that most people will never have themselves.
“I think a lot of times people think ‘Oh, it’s a photograph. I can do that.’ But I see people walk in and they just stop and they’re humbled by it,” she said.
She added that while Laliberté’s long involvement with the Cirque shows he is a visual person, this exhibit shows a new creative side of him.
Experience ‘a privilege’
Laliberté admits he still pinches himself to make sure he’s not dreaming and actually experienced 11 days in space.
“Actually, I always say ‘thank you’ every morning that I wake up to life…it’s such a privilege to be able to live that experience of going in space. I was number 540,” he said.
“I wish that more people will be able to live this experience because it definitely [has] an impact on you to be able to see the universe [and] the planet from such a perspective.”
Laliberté dedicated his spaceflight to raising awareness about water issues facing humankind. Proceeds from the sale of his photos and book benefit One Drop, a charity dedicated to providing clean water to people around the world.
“I believe I’m on a mission of contributing what I do in life to build a better world. This exposition, those pictures are all about that… to try and plant a seed and make people understand that if there’s a paradise…this planet is definitely one of them,” he said.
“It’s just about trying to inspire [people] and make them understand that we need to take care of our planet if we want to have a future as the human species.”
Most Wanted: Guy Laliberte`s Photos from Space
In an age of perfectly-styled latte foam and #photoaday (who cares?) Instagram challenges, it’s refreshing to find truly awe-inspiring photography. Guy Laliberté, Cirque du Soleil CEO and eccentric extraordinaire, reportedly paid about $35 million for a ride aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft back in 2009 and, like any good tourist, took a bunch of photos.
Two years later, he published Gaia, a book of sixty stunning shots of Earth he took from the International Space Station. Proceeds from Gaia, which retails for $65.00 on Assouline.com, go to the One Drop Foundation, a NGO dedicated to water conservation.
Bonus: if you can’t buy the book (or are a really big fan), you can see Laliberté’s photos in person from August 2nd – September 3rd, 2012 at the Thompson Landry Gallery in the Distillery
Seeing Space through the Eyes of Guy Laliberte
After spending 10 days in space back in 2009, Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberte is showcasing sixty of his most impressive photographs at an exhibit called “Gaia,” being held at the Thompson Landry Gallery in Toronto.
He paid $35 million for the roundtrip ticket into space and became the first-ever private space explorer. He also published a book with the photographs, which was released last year. Proceeds from Gaia will be donated to an initiative that was started by Laliberte called “ONE DROP,” a non-governmental organization founded in October 2007 in Montreal, Canada – it is a charitable organization that develops integrated, innovative projects with an international scope, in which water plays a central role as a creative force in generating positive, sustainable effects for local and foreign populations and in the fight against poverty. More specifically, ONE DROP Canada, in cooperation with partner Oxfam and others, develops access-to-water and sanitation projects in countries where access to this vital resource is lacking
“You’re riding at 25,000 km/h. You’re taking pictures out of a small window. You’re in [a] weightlessness situation where taking [a] position is not easy,” he told CBC News on Thursday. “The only advantage you have is those lenses that usually, on Earth, weigh 10 pounds weigh nothing up there. But you still have to manage to – from one eye – see your subject coming…adjusting your camera and then clicking.”
“Gaia” will be held at the Thompson Landry Gallery from August 2nd until September 3rd.