An intriguing way to look at history, Archaeologists call it the Persian carpet effect.
Imagine you're a mouse running across an elaborately decorated rug. The ground would merely be a blur of shapes and colors. You could spend your life going back and forth, studying an inch at a time, and never see the patterns.
Like a mouse on a carpet, an archaeologist painstakingly excavating a site might easily miss the whole for the parts. That's where the work of aerial photographers such as Georg Gerster comes in.
For four decades, Gerster, 77, has been flying over sites from the Parthenon to Ayers Rock to provide archaeologists with the big picture. Seen from high above, even the most familiar turf can appear transformed, with a coherence and detail invisible on the ground.
"In the Middle Eastern and classical [archaeology] world, it's a tool people recognize as extremely valuable," says archaeologist William Sumner, a University of Chicago professor emeritus, of aerial photography. "The thing about Georg's images is they are superb. If there's anything to be seen, it's in his images."
In Gerster's recent book, The Past From Above: Aerial Photographs of Archaeological Sites (J. Paul Getty Museum), places we've seen a thousand times in pictures from ground level take on a whole new meaning. His photographs dramatize the scale of ancient structures and show them, as if for the first time, in relation to their surroundings.