According to Yann Arthus-Bertrand, creator of “7 Billion Others,” the spectacular video exhibition on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park, everything began with a helicopter breakdown in Mali.
As an aerial photographer, he was used to viewing the world from on high. Suddenly forced to land and wait out repairs, he was welcomed in by a poor villager and his family. “These people who had nothing gave me everything,” he says in a video on his website.
Most of all, they talked, and the man spoke openly about his hopes and fears. Arthus-Bertrand was so moved by the encounter that he established the GoodPlanet Foundation, which became the launchpad for “7 Billion Others,” a massive project seven years in the making that interviewed people around the world to discover what differentiates and unites us. It is, in fact, an attempt to create a global dialogue, a sense of worldwide community.
Shown in Europe, Africa and Asia, “7 Billion Others” is now in its U.S. debut at MOPA, ending its seven-month stay Sept. 13. It begins with a grand overview, a wall-size video montage that’s a moving mosaic of faces. Sit down and watch for awhile, as selected faces zoom out, one by one, into super-sized real people, gazing straight at you and speaking to you, heart to heart. It’s stunning; and the longer you look and listen, the greater the impact.
In the rooms beyond are four mini-theaters, offering extended face-to-face contacts touching on different themes. There’s also a “Making Of” video, a wall of “Messages” from some of the interviewees, and computers that give you a chance to contribute your own thoughts and feelings to the online Others.
Hendrik Kerstens’ “Model and Muse,” a contemporary Dutch master shows a series of striking and witty photo-portraits of his daughter that seem like beautifully rendered 15th-century Dutch paintings. Look closely: her headgear may be made of steel wool, plastic bags, or other detritus of our modern world.
And then there’s “Seeing is Believing?” a new gallery where MOPA’s old store used to be that’s full of interesting and sometimes interactive pieces, along with fascinating photographic and historical facts. Hot Tip: For the ultimate Selfie, add your own image and moves to Self/Reflection.
Skip lunch or the gym if you must, but don’t miss these three great exhibits. And give yourself plenty of time; you might end up spending a whole afternoon.
About Yann Arthus-Bertrand
•Yann Arthus-Bertrand has had a varied career, as photographer, author, hot-air balloon pilot, director of an African nature reserve.
•He founded the world’s first aerial photography agency and became known for his book, “Earth From Above,” which sold more than 3 million copies. To date, outdoor exhibitions of photos from the book have been seen by about 200 million people. (While researching this story, I realized: I was one of them, in the fall of 2000, in Paris.)
•Subsequently, he created the GoodPlanet Foundation to raise awareness of environmental issues, and developed the project that started out as “6 Billion Others.”
•A quote from his website: “There will be no sustainable development if we cannot manage to live together. [This project] encourages us to take action. I hope that each one of us will want to reach out and make these encounters, to listen to other people and to contribute to the life of 7 billion others.”
•Three of the questions: “What have you learned from your parents? What difficult circumstances have you been through? What does love mean to you?”
7billionothers.org: Includes a second-by-second count of the number of humans on Earth. As I started writing this, there were 7,349,875,250 of us. When I finished, there were 7,350,947,029.