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Curating Earth

The Daily Overview makes satellite images into art with a message

There’s something irresistible about the window seat on an airplane. It’s an opportunity to see your world in miniature form. The seemingly flat and endless landscape of Kansas by car morphs into a gorgeous patchwork canvas of green by air.

Benjamin Grant, creator of the Daily Overview wants to give viewers that experience from the comfort of their desk. Every day (or just about), Grant posts a beautiful image of our world from above.

Mount Whaleback Iron Ore Mine, Pilbara,
Barcelona, Exiample District
Spiral Jetty, Salt Lake, Utah

About a year before Grant started Daily Overview, a friend shared a video with him about what astronauts experience the first time they see Earth from space. This is called “The Overview Effect.” According to Grant’s mission statement, this term refers to “the sensation astronauts have when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole. They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once.”

Gemasolar Solar Concentrator
Collapse of West Anarctic Ice Sheet
Brazilian Amazon Deforestation

“It had a profound impact on me and changed the way I thought about things,” Grant says about the video.

Grant wanted to make a social impact and share this revelation with others, but he wasn’t sure how. Then, when playing with some mapping software, he decided to type in “Earth.” He expected a zoomed out view of the planet, something similar to what astronauts saw from space. Instead, the map took him to Earth, Texas. His screen filled with vibrant green circles.

“It was one of the most beautfiul things I’ve ever seen,” he says.

Kansas Pivot Irrigation
Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya
Tawain Straight Fishing Nets

However pretty the picture is, creating aesthetically pleasing images isn’t Grant’s entire goal. He wants viewers to consider the impact humans have on their surroundings, for better or for worse.

The Overview mission statement hopes “you will go beyond the aesthetics, contemplate just exactly what it is that you’re seeing, and consider what that means for our planet.”

Boats on New Bullards Bar Reservoir
Turbine Interchange, Jacksonville, Florida
Mount Taranaki, New Zealand

Grant’s favorite images are abstract with big messages. They pull you in and give you the insatiable need to know what’s happening.

“If you don’t know what it is, you want to hang it on your wall, then you learn what’s really going on,” he says in reference to an overview of a refugee camp in Kenya.

Terrace Farming
Industrial Sector, Tokai, Japan
Tulip Fields, Lisse, Netherlands

Posting an image daily is a lot of pressure, especially with Grant’s high standards.

“I’m not just casually clicking through Google Earth and looking for something that looks cool,” he says.

Grant designates time for mapping sessions, and tries to create 5–10 overviews per session. First he starts with a concept. For example, does he want to explore transportation or farming? Once he settles on an idea, he has virtually the entire world at his disposal.

“As long as I really put my mind to it, I really truly believe the subject matter is infinite. I literally have the whole world to look at. I could show the Arc de Triomph, or the area around the Arc, or all of Paris, or all of France.”

Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands
Fruit Tree Orchards, Huelva, Spain
San Francisco Salt Flats

The site has only been in existence for a little more than a year, but it’s already a sensation. At the time this article was written, its instagram, @dailyoverview, had 373 individual posts and about 26,000 followers. There’s even an art exhibition of the overviews at the Deutches Museum in Berlin.

Though the site’s popularity has certainly increased environmental awareness, Grant says he wants to create some “real change.” The most immediate next step is making physical prints to sell, then donating a portion to an environmental charity.

“That’s the dream,” he says.

All photos by Benjamin Grant/Google Earth/DigitalGlobe

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