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Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Words: Cecily Layzell

Photos: Tom Hegen

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Tom Hegen’s mesmerising aerial photos capture the immense solar plants that could power our world.

Each hour, the amount of power from the sun that hits the earth is more than the entire planet consumes in a year. If harnessed on a large scale, this vast source of renewable energy could play a major role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and combatting climate change. But what would a world powered by renewables look like?

That question was the starting point for Tom Hegen’s latest project. A master of aerial photography, Hegen focuses on the often-negative impact of human intervention on the environment, such as mining and intensive agriculture. In The Solar Power Series, he takes a more positive view. 

The series features five solar plants in the US, France and Spain. Most of these are solar thermal power plants, a newer technology in which thousands of mirrors, called heliostats, capture and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver in a central tower. 

“Aerial photography has the great ability to make things visible that wouldn’t be from the ground,” says Hegen. “Seeing the plants from the air, they embody what the future could look like – immense, man-made structures that are the basis to maintain our high standard of living.”

Hegen shot many of the images around sunrise, from the open door of a helicopter. “I wanted the mirrors to reflect the morning sky while the ground was still dark,” he explains. “We often looped around the structures at different heights to find the perfect angle.”  

The results, which resemble glittering concert crowds or neatly arranged towns, are mesmerising. “My work is kind of a seduction for the viewer. The landscapes I photograph are consequences of our collective activities. Therefore, we all have a connection to these places. I use beauty in my work as an entry point to tell stories about issues around the world. I believe that looking at something beautiful attracts an audience more than only focusing on the ugly things. In this way, people start building a relationship with the image, and when they read the story behind a photograph, they start to understand the landscape in relation to humans and nature.”

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