Depending on where you are, Costa Rica seems flat, hilly, or mountainous. In turns, the country feels wet, dry, sandy, rocky, grassy, mossy, boggy, muddy, misty, sloped, crested, carved, cracked, and thick with forest. When you see Costa Rica at eye level, it’s sometimes hard to get your bearings; the land is so crowded with highlands and vegetation that you often can’t see much farther than a few kilometers away. In the foggiest cloud forest or densest jungle, you can barely see the hand in front of your face.
For years, the Pucci family has photographed Costa Rica in all its splendor. But about two years ago, they decided to try a new angle: from the air. Their book of aerial landscapes, “Costa Rica Aérea,” will contain 270 never-before-published photographs. The book, written in both Spanish and English, will hit stores on Dec. 3.
“The abstraction lets us perceive everyday [things] with a broader vision,” Sergio Pucci wrote in an email to The Tico Times. “This fresh perspective shows an unseen Costa Rica that certainly opened our eyes and made us love our country in a completely new way.”
These are big words coming from some of Costa Rica’s most beloved photographers. The Pucci dynasty began with Juan José Pucci, a cardiovascular surgeon who has shot pictures for 25 years. The Costa Rican Photography Club has named him Photographer of the Year eight times. His two sons, Sergio and Giancarlo, have followed in his footsteps, and together the family has presented exhibits, published books, and collaborated on a variety of photo essays, including the Magical Trees Project, which encourages sustainability in forests through photography. When they’re not tromping through remote glens, they even shoot weddings.
But Costa Rica Aérea is something new: Instead of close-ups of exotic birds and leaping monkeys, the Puccis have turned their telephoto lenses downward. They hired pilots to take them into the air, then snapped landscapes from an altitude of several hundred to several thousand feet. Many of the shots are aimed directly at the ground, such as their image of sea turtles crawling across the beach, making tracks as they go. The effect is cartographical, like a satellite image. Other shots are taken diagonally, to give mountains and ridges the perspective they deserve. Some photos show manmade structures buzzing with human activity, such as their portrait of a corral filled with toros contestants. Others show untouched rivers and beaches.
“We don’t plan [how we collaborate],” said Sergio. “I think it comes organically. It unites us to our love of nature, to Costa Rica, and to our passion for photography.”
Their process is a healthy mix of design and improvisation. Certain events, like turtle migration, must be anticipated long in advance, while other vistas – such as volcanoes clear of clouds – may change at a moment’s notice. They work with a network of different pilots, planes, and helicopters, which accommodate different situations. For example, to shoot the summit of Chirripó (Costa Rica’s tallest mountain), they required a plane that could fly over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). Changing weather and wind conditions meant frequently rescheduling flights and returning to San José a day later than expected. In the Costa Rica Aérea book, the Puccis display a map that traces their routes.
Despite all this flying, the Puccis remain committed to their naturalist mission: Profits from book sales will benefit the Magic Tree Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Giancarlo, and the paper used for printing the books is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
More personally, the “Costa Rica Aérea” book documents their extraordinary two-year journey across the skies of Costa Rica.
“In all, we have made seven books together,” said Sergio. “Each book is a long creative process and shows a photographic evolution. This one has the distinction of being 100 percent aerial photography, and that framework is a very different style and language.”
For more information about the Costa Rica Aérea project, visit the official website.