Zoe Wetherall The Australian photographer working from a hot air balloon

Cover Image - Zoe Wetherall

Zoe Wetherall is not a big fan of heights, which is kind of crazy considering the work she makes. Often, the Australian-born photographer can be found photographing from hot air balloons, looking for interesting shapes, patterns, and colors below her.

Landscapes transform in her work – orange-red mountains change from rough-textured rocks to softly rounded hills; a creek turns into a festive blue stroke against a green backdrop.

Her images never display a horizon, which makes them no longer landscapes, but an interplay between lines and textures. As viewers, we’re forced to look at nature in a very graphic way.

It all began about five years ago, during a trip across the US, when Zoe had the opportunity to fly in a hot air balloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I had my camera equipment with me so I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I ended up with a whole series of shots, and whenever I showed them to people I got a really good response.”

On that trip something clicked, and Zoe has continued taking aerial shots ever since. The series led to multiple exhibitions in Australia, and in that same year she won a string of awards, including the APA New York Photo Contest and Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers.

Some of her work is taken from helicopters, but she prefers to shoot from hot air balloons, because they move more slowly. She doesn't charter her own flights though; she just takes the local tourist attraction. “Yes, there will be a bunch of other people and the pilot in the balloon with me when I’m taking my photos,” she laughs.

She searches for flights whenever she’s on holiday, and a lot of her pictures cover the Melbourne area because she used to live there. Because it’s really hard to judge from the ground if an area will look good from hundreds of feet in the air, the artist doesn’t plan out the places she photographs very deliberately. And once up in the air, you also have to go with the flow, as you can’t direct the way the wind will take you.

Recently she started a series on architecture, which is not unlike her aerial shots, focussing on the patterns she encounters. “So even when I’m shooting on the ground I developed a style similar to what I do in the air. Eventually it was that flight in New Mexico that put everything in motion.”