A One-Man Flying Machine Over the Sand Dunes
Feb 28, 2023
Bastian Brüsecke is a photographer with a unique mission: documenting the beautiful landscapes and cultures he encounters while flying over the Arabian and Iranian deserts on a paramotor. We spoke with Bastian, one of Amazing Aerial’s newest members, about his work.
A rock formation in the Nafud region in Saudi Arabia, photographed at sunset. Bastian has spent years exploring the deserts in the region, capturing the diverse landscapes and hidden treasures. . © Amazing Aerial Agency / Bastian Brüsecke
By Rebecca Duras
Bastian Brüsecke is currently at home in Germany, but the photographer doesn’t like staying grounded for long. Bastian shoots many motorsport events a year and captures aerial photographs with his paramotor, which means he’s often on the road (or in the air) for work.
The widely traveled photographer starts the conversation speaking about his own travels in the Balkans, where Amazing Aerial is based. Bastian is not one of those photographers that parachutes in, takes photos of the landscapes, and leaves, but is someone who is engaged in learning about the local communities he visits. We talk about youth unemployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina and emigration, a choice many of his friends in the country are making.
A conversation with Bastian takes you in many different places, sometimes where you don’t expect it to go. His care about the societies and places he visits is always palpable, but shines through even more when he talks about the desert.
Pursuing a Dream, No Matter What
For Bastian Brüsecke, it all comes back to the desert. His love for the desert’s beautiful untouched landscapes led him to motorsport rallies, which now make up a good chunk of his career. But it wasn’t always like that—the photographer worked as an independent financial advisor for 16 years. If you needed help organizing your retirement plans, Bastian was until recently the right man to call. For years, he balanced the job with his passion for photography and a growing freelance career. “With these two jobs, on the one hand I had this super-serious financial advising thing where I was talking with people about their retirement and financial solutions for houses, on the other hand I would wake up in the desert in a sleeping bag with no idea of where I would sleep that evening,” Bastian recalls. As of January 2023, he’s officially a full-time photographer and filmmaker with plans to open his own film production company.
Within photography, Bastian is no stranger to the calculation of balancing profitable work and passion projects. His extensive portfolio of motorsport events was at first just a way to safely get into the desert. “These desert rallies have that beautiful thing where they go really deep into the desert and bring the whole infrastructure, from kitchen tents to everything, and for me it was a way to get closer to the desert world without putting myself into danger,” Bastian explains.
He started out working on desert rallies in North Africa and now shoots worldwide, with over 50 events under his belt. Bastian explains that thanks to his technique of following most of the rallies on his own motorbike, he gets closer to the participants by experiencing everything they do, allowing him to create better films.
Not bad for someone who admits he doesn’t have any personal interest in motorsports.
How to Take Flight in the Desert
Bastian’s love for the desert also brought him to his other preferred mode of transportation—the paramotor.
In 2018, Bastian went on an expedition to the Dasht-e Lut desert in Iran, a place he keeps returning to for his work. He was a traditional drone photographer back then—but it didn’t feel right. “I was watching this drone screen and I said that’s something I need to see with my own eyes because it’s so beautiful,” he recalls.
After looking through his options, he decided on using a paramotor because it is the most convenient. The equipment fits into a trunk and is versatile to use. Taking off is relatively easy—all you need is enough space to get a running start.
Although a paramotor seems difficult to use, Bastian assures us, “I think even an ape could fly.” He admits that there are a few weeks of a learning curve, especially when it comes to learning how to take off. Just like most droners land their first drone in a tree, learning how to use a paramotor will probably involve breaking some propellers or bending some frames, but with patience and endurance, Bastian learned how to fly.
Showing a Passion for the Desert on Film
The desert is at the core of everything that Bastian does, and that passion is visible in the way he talks about the landscape. “Like a lot of elementary landscapes, the desert is really something which provokes introspection,” Bastian explains, full of excitement. “When you go into these landscapes, you are very detached from any social constructions and reduced to very basic instincts. It’s like you are in direct contact with the infinity of space and time.”
Bastian has spent a lot of time in some of the remotest desert corners of the world, primarily the Dasht-e Lut desert in Iran and the Rub’ al Khali in Saudi Arabia. “These are very rare landscapes and there are not many people that saw them,” Bastian explains. He is one of few photographers in the world to capture locations such as the star dunes in the Rub’ al Khali—and part of an even smaller location that flew over these remote locations.
Although the common perception of the desert is as a place of emptiness, in Bastian’s experience, it is full of beauty. “They are very rare landscapes that you can’t see anywhere else on the planet,” he says. He raves about the extreme beauty of the Dasht-e Lut, the home of the hottest recorded temperature on the planet, and the spectacular sand dunes in both deserts. The Rub’ al Khali is the largest sand desert in the world, but even sand can create spectacular formations such as star dunes, star-shaped dunes that were formed by winds blowing from different directions.
Flying in some of the remotest desert regions in the world definitely comes with its challenges—the Rub’ al Khali is so remote, it doesn’t even have weather stations within much of its borders. For safety reasons, Bastian never flies alone, always traveling with a convoy of at least one other car. He carefully plots his trips using Google MyMaps, which he uses both for noting sights that interest him and to ensure that he is never too far away from the car in case of a crash. “The challenge [of flying a paramotor] is to get the knowledge to make the good decisions,” Bastian explains, listing the factors that affect your flight in inhospitable terrain, including the weather, technical capacities, and planning for any emergencies.
Bastian also has to account for the sometimes-turbulent political situation in the countries that he flies in. Although in the desert he’s far away from worldly concerns such as politics, he has to cross borders and cities to get to the desert. The political situation is part of the reason why he had to postpone a planned trip to Iran in the fall. Bastian is measured in his analysis of the politics he flies into. “For me personally, as a European, of course I have my own view about the political situation in these countries…but on the other hand, on my journeys I respect and accept the stuff which is happening there, and don’t judge the people on it,” he elaborates. He says that he’s met with beautiful hospitality as he travels, especially in Iran, with strangers even handing him notes of welcome while he’s driving on the road.
Bastian’s photos of the desert may show remote landscapes, but his experiences can also teach us a lot about the people that live nearby.
Capturing the World’s Most Remote Deserts In a Documentary
Bastian is hoping to turn his years of working in Iran and Saudi Arabia into a documentary that collects his paramotor footage. He’s been working on the project since 2018. Since then, he’s taken two trips to Iran, two to Saudi Arabia, and shorter visits to Oman, the Emirates, and other neighboring countries. He travels through inhospitable landscapes by 4x4, motorbike, and of course, his trusty paramotor, all with the goal of getting the perfect shot.
“My goal with this project is to portray the landscapes and the people who live there,” Bastian explains, “Europeans often have just sand dunes in mind when talking about these places, but deserts are very versatile places.” Besides capturing the breathtaking, otherworldly landscapes, Bastian also captures footage of the people that live in or around the desert. Showing the human connection is important to him as the deserts have an important cultural significance to the people that live around there.
Bastian is planning another massive trip at the end of 2023 to round out his footage, but he’s already got an impressive collection of locations. From the caravanserais of the Dasht-e Kavir, the architecture of Yazd, and the hottest place on Earth the Dasht-e Luht in Iran, to the festivals of the Rub al Khali in Saudi Arabia and the ancient cities of the Nefud desert in Jordan, Bastian shows the richness of the desert in a way few others can see.
There have been setbacks on the way to completing this documentary, including coronavirus lockdowns, political problems, and even a broken leg. Still, Bastian hopes to complete the project by 2024. He joined Amazing Aerial in part to have a supportive community as he works on the documentary. “I feel the same passion in Amazing Aerial [that I have], just for different topics,” he explains.
We hope that Bastian will get the opportunity to showcase his documentary. It tells a valuable story, and from his paramotor, he has a perspective few others can share.
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