The Art of Solar Energy

Photographer Jamey Stillings takes to the air to capture new perspectives of the Crescent Dunes solar project in Nevada.

This story appears in the June 2016 issue of  National Geographic magazine. 

Our environmental problems are easy to see. But what do the solutions look like? This project—a series of aerial shots taken above the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant near Tonopah, Nevada—is my attempt to document our efforts to build a more sustainable future.

I’ve always been interested in the intersection of nature and human activity. Whenever we use the land and its resources, there’s a nuanced tension involved. We’ve come to rely on our smartphones, cars, and computers, yet to create them we often exploit the Earth’s finite resources.

To find the best shots and perspectives, I flew over the site before the sun was up. As the light increased, I focused on the drama in the details—the geometry of the heliostats, their angles and dimensions, the abstract shadows they cast. But I had to work fast: The light was ideal for 30 minutes at best.
To find the best shots and perspectives, I flew over the site before the sun was up. As the light increased, I focused on the drama in the details—the geometry of the heliostats, their angles and dimensions, the abstract shadows they cast. But I had to work fast: The light was ideal for 30 minutes at best.

Photographing from a helicopter, I aim to show what an alternative energy source looks like—both the visual delight of its shapes and shadows and the way it fits into the context of the landscape. Even a progressive idea like solar energy means utilizing land that may have been in a natural state beforehand.

To look at renewable energy projects is to see both the practical and aspirational aspects of who we are—how we apply knowledge, ingenuity, and skill to find solutions for the future. This series is a visual exploration of that quest.

Jamey Stillings' career spans documentary, fine art, and commercial assignment projects. He earned a B.A. in art from Willamette University and an M.F.A. in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology and has a diverse range of national and international clients. Stillings' work is in the collections of the U.S. Library of Congress; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Nevada Museum of Art; and several private collections.

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