After the 2004 issuance of Cloudscapes — which featured fifteen striking photographs of different types of clouds — art director Howard Paine wanted to create an unofficial successor. Paine turned to Doug Hill, a researcher at PhotoAssist, for help compiling images that would turn the focus to America’s stunning landscapes.
“The original concept,” Hill recalls, “was images of the Earth from one mile up showing one mile on the surface.” Hill and Paine used Google Earth to explore a satellite view of the United States, and soon realized that many promising sites were the wrong scale. On the final stamps, for example, Volcanic crater shows an area much larger than a square mile, while many of the others cover quite a small area.
So instead of size, patterns became the defining characteristic of Earthscapes. Some landmarks are impressive from the ground but prove uninteresting when viewed from the sky: Niagara Falls looks like little more than white streaks on the river. On the other hand, crisscrossing highways and irrigation circles may not look like much from ground level, but when seen from above, they present intriguing shapes and patterns.
Having chosen potential locations, Paine and Hill sought out professional photographs to obtain the best possible images. In a few cases, these were images taken by satellites: the IKONOS satellite took the photograph of Bear Glacier in Alaska (Glacier and icebergs), and NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite provided the images of Mount St. Helens (Volcanic crater) and the Kansas cropland (Center-pivot irrigation).
The remaining twelve images were taken by photographers flying overhead in airplanes. Five of the twelve are the work of Jim Wark, who has spent the last two decades of his retirement as a professional aerial photographer. Like Paine and Hill, Wark watches for patterns that are impressive from the air.
“Occasionally you run across things,” he observes. “You think, wow, that would make a great picture.” The Railroad roundhouse image was one of these “serendipitous” photographs. At other times, Wark seeks out exactly the picture he wants. For example, Butte in early morning fog is from a 1990 shoot over Utah that launched Wark’s career. “It was a particular weather condition that I knew would produce fog in that area,” he recalls. “Those were the best pictures I’ve ever taken, I think.”
When all the images had been selected and gathered, the final task was to crop each one so that it fit into the tiny, square stamp format. In most cases, the crop was minor, but several required a judicious eye still watching for the most remarkable pattern.
The Center-pivot irrigation image was plucked from a NASA photo that shows the irrigation circles on such a vast scale, they look like sprinkled pinheads. The Glacier and icebergs stamp focuses on the most interesting section of a wide satellite view of Alaska's Bear Glacier. And finally, the mesmerizing pattern of windows shown in Skyscraper apartments was cropped from the lower right corner of Wark’s photograph of Manhattan.
The result? Eight years after Cloudscapes showed us spectacular sights in the sky, Earthscapes brings us to new heights and provides the chance to see, and appreciate, our home in a breathtaking, new way.