Georg Gerster (4.1928 - 2.2019)

Height provides an overview, and an overview facilitates insight, while insight generates consideration – perhaps.

He was born in Winterthur, Switzerland, on April 30th, 1928 and studied classical languages at his local grammar school, before reading German and English at Zurich University, where he also received his doctorate. From 1950 to 1956 he was science editor of the Zurich Weltwoche. Since 1956 he has been a freelance journalist specializing in science reporting and aerial photography. He has undertaken extensive visits to every part of the world, including Antarctica.

By pursuing this line of reasoning, Georg Gerster has turned aerial photography into something more probing, something that, with luck, may prove a contemplative, philosophical instrument encouraging greater reflection.

His way of viewing the world has caught on and found many imitators. Georg Gerster consoles himself with the thought that imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.

For two decades Georg Gerster’s aerial photographs for Swissair’s posters and calendars had contributed substantially to the airline’s image.

Gerster worked on a regular basis for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the Washington-based National Geographic Magazine. Today he works for the Swiss online news platform Journal21. Further his works are known among Photography- and Artlovers and are part of several Art Portfolios.
Georg Gerster died 90 years old, outside Zurich on February 8th, 2019. 

Making of

No cakewalk

There he is comfortably seated in his helicopter ambling above the land - granted, it is sometimes rather turbulent, always a bit windy, with the window open or the door off, sometimes a bit cold or even bitterly cold. Nevertheless, what a job!

 The image might be misleading with regard to the stresses inherent in aerial photography. Aerial photography doesn’t come without tears, it is no cakewalk. A suitable aircraft has to be found and rented. Permissions and clearances must be secured. Even in the third millenium many nations act as if  satellite eyes would not continuously scour the earth’s surface; an aerial photographer all too easily qualifies as a spy and often has to deal with security personnel aboard the aircraft. The weather must cooperate and the control tower should be manned at the time when the light is propitious for aerial views, meaning: early in the morning or late in the day. At smaller airfields this often is a real problem. Therefore much of the time aerial photography is associated with lots of legwork - sometimes even when one already is airborne.

Georg Gerster remembers:

„I stopped over in Columbus, Ohio, on my way to Hawaii. The purpose of the stop-over was to photograph the Great Serpent Mound, a precolumbian earth effigy. The January day in Columbus proved to be one of the coldest in memory, at least in my memory, some 30 centigrades below. The airplane had to be warmed up in the hangar. When it had become operational we took off, but the pilot couldn’t find the snake, monumental as it is, wiggling half a kilometer in an Ohioan valley. I despaired, this was my only chance, and I didn’t intend to blow it. I pleaded with the pilot to set down the airplane in a field close enough to a farmstead in order to enquire about the snake. This was of course quite illegal, but the pilot obliged me and landed on a field. I disembarked into Ohio’s severe winter in light city clothing fit for Hawaii.
As it turned out, the farmstead was much farther than I had figured. I stumbled across an expanse of icy, snow-covered stubble in low shows - arriving at the farmhouse half frozen. I knocked and the farmer’s wife opened the door. With numb lips I just managed to say – hello, I am looking for the Great Serpent. She stared at me – and I could see in her eyes that she was convinced she was in an encounter of the Third kind. A Martian stood before her, an extraterrestrial had arrived, ET had made it to Ohio.When she had overcome her shock and realized that I was from her planet she treated me well with a bowl of hot soup and the required information.“

Movie (in German)


From reviews

"The Past from Above"
Swiss photographer Gerster has been taking aerial photos of some of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites for the last 50 years.
This collection, (...) shows off ancient ruined cities in breathtaking patchworks and the awe-inspiring architecture of religious sites from the temples of Abu Simbel in Egypt to Caesarea in Israel. (...)

"The Past from Above" provides a unique view of the world we live in today and a glimpse of what it must have looked like to the gods back then.
(From: Time Magazine Europe Edition, among the "10 best books of the year" December 2006)

...the pictures...often have a weirdly dream-like quality. If Kubla Khan had a library in Xanadu, he’d have kept this book on permanent display....Every single photograph ...combines scholarly interest with a sense of the numinous; it’s the record of a valuable and oddly heroic life, as well as a thing of beauty.“
(Andrew Motion, Britain’s Poet Laureate, reviewing The Past From Above in The Guardian, 4th March 2006)

„The thing about Georg’s images is they are superb. If there’s anything to be seen, it’s in his images.“
(Archaeologist William Sumner, a University of Chicago professor emeritus, quoted by the reviewer of  The Past From Above in the December 2005 issue of Smithsonian Magazine)

„The best book of aerial photographs ever...The book is a tour de force of form and content.“
(Stewart Brand on „Grand Design“ (Der Mensch auf seiner Erde) in Next Whole Earth Catalog, 1976)

„I think the most disturbing photograph was the one of huge piles of discarded tomatoes and squashes because they failed to reach the right standard of shape and size. What a dreadful comment on the appalling „throw-away“ society that we have now become...“
(H.R.H.Prince Charles in a private communication, 2000, commenting on the book „Amber Waves of Grain“)

„georg gerster is a contemporary artist from Switzerland who tells us about the world through his works georg gerster is at once immensely informative and stunningly beautiful georg gerster is brillant“
(Googlism for: georg gerster, 2004, www.googlism.com)


  • In 2018 Gersters book "Grand Design" is chosen as 1 of 1000 worldwide books by the Long New Foundation, for its Library to help rebuild the world/civilicatoin should a catastrohpy occur. 
  • Die Goldene Blende, Germany, 1973
  • Ehrengabe Des Kt. Zürich, 1974
  • Prix Nadar, Paris 1976
  • Pictures Of The Year Competition, Columbia, Mo./USA, 1976 (1 First, 1 Second)
  • World Understanding Through Photography, Special Recognition, 1976
  • Anerkennungsgabe Der Stadt Winterthur, 1977
  • Zürcher Journalistenpreis, 1984


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