Photos

Mighty and Ominous Satellite Images of the Human Condition

The Daily Overview presents refugee camps, environmental horror, Florida housing projects, and fields of lovely Dutch tulips.

The Dadaab refugee camps in 2014. (Daily Overview / Satellite images © 2015 DigitalGlobe)

Benjamin Grant’s career as curator of startling satellite imagery began with, of all things, a problem with Apple’s much-maligned Maps app.

He was preparing a lecture for friends about space and the overview effect and typed “Earth” to see if the map would zoom out all the way. “It actually went to Earth, Texas, a small town in the middle of nowhere,” says the 26-year-old New Yorker. “The entire scene filled up with pivot irrigation circles, these electric-motored irrigators that go in perfect circles. I was like, Oh my god, this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Since then, Grant has been on a constant prowl for equally beautiful—and sometimes disturbing—landscapes, curating them at his site, Daily Overview. In all the pictures he sources from his partner satellite company, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe, he tries to show evidence of human impact, be it agriculture, mining, transportation, or music festivals. He sometimes goes newsy, too; when the Nepal earthquake hit in April, he found an image revealing emergency shelters popping up all over Kathmandu.

In his years of sifting, Grant has had two shots particularly stick with him for very different reasons. One depicts huge rows of gumball-colored tulip fields in the Netherlands—an “amazing view of harnessing the landscape,” he says. The other shows the world’s biggest encampment of refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, which held hundreds of thousands of Somalis trying to escape war and hunger.

“It looks like beautiful red earth with perfectly ordered tents on it. You might say at first, ‘Wow, I would hang that on my wall!’” Grant says. “When you read what it actually is, it's horrifying—you can get an idea of the scale of what’s going on.”

Grant’s endeavor has gathered wild support on Instagram, and he now has a coffee-table book from Penguin Random House scheduled for next summer. “I never expected it to spread this big,” he says. Here are some of his more-profound finds, beginning with one from this year:

Migrants and refugees, many fleeing the Syrian conflict, set up shelters at the Hungarian border town of Röszke.
The inactive Mir diamond mine yawns in eastern Siberia. The 1,722-foot-deep pit is the second-largest excavated hole on the planet.
Evaporation ponds at a potash mine in Moab, Utah, are dyed blue to quicken the evaporation of salts used in fertilizer.
The massive Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant in Seville, Spain, focuses 2,650 mirrors to generate green electricity.
The yearly Glastonbury Festival transforms Pilton, England, from a village of roughly 1,000 to a seething ocean of 135,000-plus music lovers. Seen here are their tents.
Olive trees dot the land on plantations in Córdoba, Spain.
The boneyard at the Southern California Logistics Airport holds more than 150 defunct planes.
The artificiality of residential communities in Delray Beach, Florida, is striking from space.
Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe contains 2,711 concrete slabs arranged to give visitors a bewildered, uneasy sensation.
Beijing’s sprawling Forbidden City, built in the 15th century, has 9,999 rooms and a 171-foot-wide moat.
Pivot-irrigation fields carpet the land around Edson, Kansas.
Argentina’s tourist haunt of Villa Epecuén was destroyed in a dam failure in 1985, and now is a crumbling ghost town.

All images: Daily Overview / Satellite images © 2015 DigitalGlobe

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