REVIEW: Flying High

Flying High front cover

Flying High front cover Lloyd Homer is one of the greatest photographers of New Zealand’s natural environment. For over 30 years he worked for GNS Science recording the impact of natural disasters, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides. He became a master of aerial photography and created spectacular panoramas from high altitude.

In Flying High fellow geologist and science writer Simon Nathan has selected the best of more than the thousands of photographs Lloyd Homer took during his working life.

As part of a Geological Survey Team, Lloyd Homers’ first major assignment was to take photographs of the Inangahua 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 1968. These show widespread landslides and damage to roads and the local community. It was the first big earthquake in New Zealand for 25 years and a big wakeup call that deep beneath our feet powerful forces are at work which can suddenly cause natural disasters.

In 1969 Ruapehu erupted for the first time in 24 years. Lloyd Homer was on the summit the very next day to capture striking images of the steaming crater lake, large rocks thrown out during the eruption, layers of dark ash and the two lobes of lahar flowing down.

Another of his standout photographs was of the massive ash cloud blasting into the atmosphere as a result of a major Ngauruhoe eruption in January 1974.

Part of the work of GNS Science is to identify and monitor active faults which are likely to rupture in the future. Aerial photographs are an essential part of this and Lloyd Homer took many photographs of faults in different parts of the country. Some form a straight simple line across the landscape. Others are more complex and sometimes split into multiple ruptures.

Included also in Flying High are some of the best photographs Lloyd Homer took for a book marking the centennial of the founding of New Zealand’s first National Park. Les Molloy, who wrote the accompanying text accompanied him.

“ The rigours of many days of fixed wing flight, often above 3000 metres altitude with the door off and the mid-winter air temperature well below zero , were adventures we were privileged to share with many pilots whose skills were essential for this enterprise. For both of us it was a nostalgic odyssey, to float far above the peaks and valleys that we had explored in our youth”.

For Lloyd it marked the culmination of a 20 year apprenticeship in aerial photography for scientific research but it was also an opportunity to give a broader audience a birds’ eye view of our extraordinary and diverse landscape.

The contrast between these beautiful photographs and those he made of volcanic eruptions made me think of how the forces of nature are like a double edged sword. They have created our dramatic landscape but also continue to cause widespread damage.

Lloyd Homer suffered a traumatic brain injury from a mountain biking accident in 2008 which has made taking photographs difficult.

Since then there have been the major Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, further reminders that we live on ‘The Shaky Isles’ (as Aussies like to refer to us) and to have our emergency kits packed and ready!

The work of GNS scientists continues to be important. New technology has meant that drones have supplanted the need for the kind of aerial photography Lloyd specialised in which had mostly consisted of taking photographs looking sideways out the open window or door of the plane. So the story of his adventurous life told through his photographs and a record of the equipment and techniques he used are worth preserving for posterity.

You don’t need to have a scientific background to appreciate Flying High. It is written with the general reader in mind and the captions that accompany the photographs are brief and informative.

But I think it would appeal especially to those with an interest in aerial photography and our geologically active planet.

Flying High, The Photography of Lloyd Homer by Simon Nathan is published by The Geoscience Society of New Zealand. RRP $45

Reviews by Lyn Potter

Parent and grandparent, Avid traveller, writer & passionate home cook

Read more by Lyn here.