The project «From Desert» : Tomorrow, a desert world?
Never have deserts been more at the core of the problems arising from the state of our planet. They are the first regions to suffer the environmental consequences of global warming and human activity such as accelerated deforestation.
Access to water and the desertification are two great concerns of the international community. In China, the Gobi Desert is today called the “Yellow Dragon” and is advancing 3000km2 every year, nearly suffocating Beijing.
Worse, in Africa, the Sahara has expanded to 900,000km2 over the past 100 years, an area equivalent to the size of France and Italy together.
Deserts are also subjected to 21st century industrialization, ever hungrier for natural resources like iron ore in the Sahara in Mauritania, copper in the Atacama Desert in Chile, or salt in the South American highlands. The desert is becoming a natural disaster for many countries and the core of a deteriorating working conditions of laborers on industrial farms. According to the World Atlas of Desertification, published in 2018, more than 75% of earth’s surface is already degraded.
Desert regions are also the backdrops of many international crises. The world tends to forget, or pretends not to be aware of the tragedies that these inaccessible lands regularly produce. The number of political or climatic refugees has not stopped growing and population displacement could reach 700 million people by 2050.
Featuring in all religions, deserts are places of commerce, spirituality and challenges for man, and stand out, above all, for the unsurpassable beauty of their landscapes.
They are a source of fascination and inspiration.
« I always loved the desert. You sit down on sand. You see nothing. You hear nothing. But something beats and shines in that silence. »
from The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943.
Setting out to meet those who brave these unknown regions has led the photographer Léo Coulongeat to fabulous discoveries on the edge of some of the most beautiful earthly landscapes.
He traveled through 13 deserts in 13 countries on four continents, from Death Valley to the Sahara, from May 2016 to October 2018.
Along his journey, Léo Coulongeat discovered a visual an esthetic approach to the desert landscape through its travelers and inhabitants, explored environmental issues and studied new ways of life in the making, reflecting on the common characteristics of all the deserts he crossed.
From Desert first and foremost an artistic project, endeavors to share the photographer’s personal vision.
This vision is made up of a dual photographic approach: a formal analysis of the landscape as well as a perspective of the faces encountered along the way. While the portraits aim to sketch a common identity, a unique mixture of local populations and travelers, the landscapes examine the connection between these people and their surroundings.
From Desert: in a photographic continuity
From Desert, Léo Coulongeat’s project, is therefore part of a continuity of documentary photography initiated in the 1920s in the United States and part of a legacy of reportage photography. Read more
A bit of history
From the beginning of photography, in the first half of the 19th century, Western photographers travelled to distant countries to meet and photograph their populations, cultures, lifestyles and customs. Many are those who…Read more
The photographer’s approach
While many photographers have explored these remote, arid lands, each in their own way, few have captured them with a view of the whole.
Some of these desert adventurers produce clichés: camel caravans advancing amid the dunes of the Moroccan Sahara, or starry nights in the Arches National Park, far from urban light pollution.
Sometimes satellites orbiting earth produce photographs from space, showing the infinite stretch of these vast expanses, their structure, their abstract pictorial motives.
Here there is none and all of that. Léo Coulongeat is neither an extreme adventurer nor a creator of images sought by magazines.
Inspired by photographers such as Max Muench or Chris Burkard, who have a real talent for outdoor shooting, but also including the human side, like the neo-specialists Fabien Voileau and Brice Portolano, Léo Coulongeat is closer to the new hybrid photography, between adventure and reportage, led in France by media such as the online magazine « Les Others »
His long-term project is that of a dream and curiosity about the elsewhere and the unknown. It is also a spiritual quest of a young man of our time in search of other sources of reflection, far from the demarcated spaces of the Western world, guided by meditation, which he practices daily.
Why make a book?
For Léo Coulongeat, it is all about:
• Materializing his project through a physical medium that can be shared, offered as a gift, and etched for the duration, anchoring the images in reality
• Enriching his lectures and exhibitions with a concrete object that complements the multi-media, multi-format content
• Inciting readers to travel the deserts: A book has a stronger impact than a simple digital medium
• Presenting to a large audience a strong visual account of his work through a tight synthesis of 700 published photographs
• Sharing with experts, researchers, journalists and other professionals his experience from the deserts, and accompanying their documentation of issues related to these regions, such as population migration, evolution of ecosystems, the consequences of global warming, religions and cultures, etc.
The book’s contents
Crossing part of the Sahara on a merchandise train in Mauritania, climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt, searching for meteorites in the Iranian desert, laughing with the Tuareg people in Morocco, dancing around a shamanic fire with the indigenous Huicholes in Mexico, studying the stars with the best scientists in Chile, meditating in a Hindu temple in the Peruvian desert, observing ecological disasters, horrified, listening to one’s neighbor and to oneself: This photographic project narrates these human experiences in the face of very graphic desert landscapes.
With its aerial view of the unsuspected diversity of these arid areas, or its search for the most beautiful sandy perspectives, face to face with the inhabitants of the desert, the book offers a poetic immersion in a world that is still unknown, that might one day be our world.
Preface by Philippe Frey
Léo Coulongeat asked Philippe Frey to write the foreword for his book. Who better than the writer-traveler-anthropologist and undoubtedly the greatest desert explorer of the past century to put into perspective the visual account produced by the photographer during his journey?
Philippe Frey has been one of Léo Coulongeat’s inspirations, notably with his latest book, Peuples du désert.published by Arthaud in 2017.
Two universes in resonance, carried by the same desire to witness, above all, encounters made along the way, far from marked paths and prejudices. An adventure that ties together scientific exploration and reflection on the human condition.
In his books, Philippe Frey shares with us an undiminishable commitment to the environment and a defense of the people of the desert. This is also what Léo Coulongeat endeavors to do through his images.
Who is Léo Coulongeat?
Trained as an engineer, Léo Coulongeat began his career at a start-up in Paris. He began to take an interest in photography in 2013, initially attracted by urban exploration. But he was stricken by the desert, first during a visit to the United States, and then to the Sahara in Morocco. The desert-like national parks in the American West were a revelation that led him to pursue and expand his road trip. He decided to devote himself to photography full-time since he began the From Desert project, motivated by his desire to meet desert travelers.
He chose the name “ERISPHERE” as his artist’s name. Eris is the Greek goddess of chaos and discord; it is also the name of a violent sand storm that rages in Egypt, also called the khamsin, a dry hot wind similar to the North African sirocco, which blows enormous gusts of dust, disorienting those in its path. It embodies the desert’s natural force.
Léo Coulongeat works mainly with a Canon EOS 6D Mark II and a Tamron SP 24-70mm f2.8 G2 lens, a good compromise between size, focal range, robustness and optical quality. The aerial photos were mostly taken with a DJI Spark drone and a Mavic 2 Pro.
Deserts presented in the book
United States: Deserts in the American West
Spain: Bardenas Reales
Jordan: Wadi Rum
Iran: Dasht-e Lut, Dasht-e Kavir
Colombia: Tatacoa, La Guajira
Bolivia, Argentina: Altiplano, Salars
Morocco and Mauritania: Sahara
Images in From Desert have already appeared in various publications in France and abroad. Der Spiegel, sur VICE, sur phototrend et sur KONBINI.
To know more about Leo Coulangeat’s work, please go to
An accordion binding called Leporello was chosen to highlight the singularity of this photographic narrative. This binding offers a double reading of the same account, with, on one side, a double-page presentation of the most emblematic landscapes among the regions travelled, and on the other, a more documentary and humanist account, highlighting the men and the faces through portrait photography accompanied by captions that offer additional insight.
The book comes in a special slipcase.
The processing of the images in From Desert required very special attention: The images are complex because of the diversity of their colorimetric nuances. In order to reproduce the specificities of the shades, precision work is necessary in the chromatic editing to prepare the printing files and remain as faithful as possible to reality. That is why the production was entrusted to the print technology specialist printmodel®, used by some of the greatest nature photographers, such as Vincent Munier or Laurent Ballesta, for whom printmodel® developed specific profiles to enhance the whites, blacks and blues.
Si les contributions atteignent 30 000 €, nous pourrons augmenter le tirage et présenter une version anglaise, pour toucher un plus large public et l’international.
Si la campagne de financement est un succès, chaque livre vendu permettra la plantation d’un arbre, grâce à notre soutien à ReforestAction®, entreprise sociale créée en 2010 dont les actions visent à la reforestation en France et dans le monde.
« My goal is not to make postcard photos. I try to place the human, the object and the movement into the landscape that I choose to photograph. Placing an individual in relationship with his environment is essential for the comprehension of this connection and gives meaning to the construction of the landscape in question. It is with this in mind that I staged the images in this book. » Léo Coulongeat.