When 4 Photographers Looked Up, This Is What They Saw


Spotted any faraway balloons or U.F.O.s lately? For this visual series, we asked four photographers to do what some of us have been doing more frequently: looking up.

Produced by Jolie Ruben and Amanda Webster

Balarama Heller

When Balarama Heller got married last month in Tepoztlán, Mexico, a town known for reported U.F.O. sightings, he noticed one night a fiery oval shape hovering over the mountains. He filmed it with his phone, knowing that while it might’ve simply been the moon behind a cloud, he said, “I chose to allow that sense of awe and possibility to influence my imagination.” Inspired by 19th-century spirit photography, he created these images from star fields in Mexico and sets he built in his New York studio.

Credit…Photo Illustrations by Balarama Heller for The New York Times
Credit…Photo Illustration by Balarama Heller for The New York Times

Stella Blackmon

Stella Blackmon looked up at her great-aunt’s home in Ozark, Mo. “If you look up in southwest Missouri, your view is likely one of three things: the sky, the surrounding hills or a tree. And on warmer winter days, that tree probably has a kid in it,” she wrote. For her, trees were places to escape as a child. “You could reach spots where it felt like no adult could. I remember feeling like it was my own hidden universe,” she added. “I wanted to capture a sense of that wonder.” Her cousins, shown in a sycamore, are keeping the tradition alive.

Ian C. Bates

Ian C. Bates went to back roads, forests and riverbeds near his home in Marin County, Calif., as well as a friend’s ranch. “I like the idea that looking up at the sky can be a simultaneous event for an entire country — the 2017 solar eclipse, Chinese balloons, a storm rolling in, an orange sky from wildfire smoke,” he wrote. “But I think it’s equally special to be looking up at the sky alone, in solace, maybe in a field with songbirds singing or staring at towering redwoods.”

Ali Cherkis

Looking up was challenging for Ali Cherkis, who finds that among fellow New Yorkers, “more often than not, we’re looking down to avoid eye contact or stepping in mystery sludge, or at our phones, or maybe we’re deeply inwards, thinking through that thing that’s so important. Tourists here are the ones looking up, free from the albatross of a particular New York existential dread, and also rats.” Doing it, however, “helped me to remember how much life is happening above us,” she wrote.

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