Photographer Davor Rostuhar recently released the monograph Croatia from Above, published by National Geographic. The intention of the project, organized by the Club for Expedition and Culture, was to help increase awareness and ultimately protect Croatia’s many cultural, traditional, and natural treasures. The resulting collection of some 200 photographs is the culmination of many hours of research and Rostuhar’s dedication to capturing the perfect moment.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of capturing this massive body of work?
I have worked on this project for seven years. Most of the images were captured from small sports airplanes, some from helicopters, and some with unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).
Did you go up with the intention of shooting a particular scene, or did you wait for the perfect moment or landscape to find you?
First I did my homework, and I explored satellite images; then I did “exploration” flights. I first just flew over every region to see it from above … and decided what time of year, what time of day, light and conditions [I wanted]. Of course, in this process, some images were captured by chance, but most of the strongest images were shot with prior planning. Sometimes I even had to fly a few times just to get one single image. The record holder is the photo of the towers of Zagreb’s cathedral rising above the fog – the first time it has ever been captured on camera. After three unsuccessful flights with an airplane, I spent fourteen nights there with drones, only to get it in the last attempt!
Within this series, there are very graphic, almost abstract images, some rather painterly geographic images, and also several documentary views of landmarks or events. Why these different approaches?
Most aerial photographers shoot either mostly abstract photos (graphism, patterns in nature) or mostly realistic photos (picturesque towns, “normal” landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes). Very few aerial photographers shoot events and people, which are otherwise my specialty if we are talking about non-aerial photography.
I wanted to have all of this in one. The concept I created with the project’s art director, Stjepan Drmić, was to have a good balance of nature, towns, people, colors, and different light conditions.
Additionally, I think Croatia is objectively one of the most diverse countries, considering its size. In telling a story about Croatia, this was one of my main points, so photographing only one topic/style would not fit into this concept. I wanted, as you turn the pages of the monograph, for you to get a different sensation each time: you turn from mountains, to sea, to lowlands, to swamps; from blue to green to red to black to white; from people, to nature, to culture, to manmade places, to barren, empty places; from abstract motives to realistic motives. You turn from sensation to sensation.
With all of your travels, you’ve doubtless seen many places from above. What makes Croatia special?
I love Croatia, but I love all the other places as well. I must admit I’m envious of my idols, such as George Steinmetz or Yann Arthus Bertrand, who have made amazing aerial collections of the whole world … With small Croatia, however beautiful, it is not possible to achieve so many colors, as we don’t have jungles, deserts, polar landscapes, etc. But on the other hand, achieving page-turning intensity from a small part of the Earth the size of Iowa is maybe an even bigger challenge.
Do you have a particular favorite among these images?
As I mentioned, most of these photographs were the result of carefully calculated hours spent in flight just to capture one perfect moment, as with the photograph of the cathedral towers. In order to capture the most beautiful castle, Trakošćan, in a previously unseen way, I used fog for effect there as well. But unlike in the case of the cathedral, I did not want the castle to protrude above the fog. Rather, I wanted the fog to settle just above the castle, low enough so that the castle could be seen through the fog while the surrounding landscape remained hidden, thus achieving the effect of the castle appearing submerged. I succeeded after the sixth attempt!
Interview by Elaine Ritchel
The photo-monograph National Geographic—Croatia from Above is Croatia’s first photo-monograph sponsored by National Geographic, the most prestigious global brand in photography. It is available for purchase here.