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John Wark has had an unusual view of his home state of Colorado. He's a freelance photojournalist who pilots his own plane above the landscape, making pictures of flames and floods, farms and cities as he goes.
When he takes flight, he's usually not on a specific assignment, and when he went up to take a look at the Waldo Canyon fire in June, it wasn't yet a big deal. "I don't think anybody knew that was going to be a disaster," he tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "They just thought it was a bad fire."
But once he got above the flames, Wark knew he was onto a major story. "I saw this massive ... cloud of smoke, and I thought, something's very big here," he says. He was losing light, so he didn't stay up long, but he returned to the fire the next morning.
"I couldn't believe it," Wark remembers. "I was looking at entire blocks of houses burned." When he returned home to Pueblo to review his shots, he counted hundreds of houses ruined by the flames.
Wark's an experienced back country pilot, and he says it's not too difficult to fly a plane and take pictures at the same time. He gets his plane where he wants it, then picks up his camera and shoots. "It isn't like driving a car where you have to keep your eye on the road."
The distance Wark has from his subjects gives him what he calls a "rare perspective." He remembers flying over the South Platte River during the flooding in Greeley, Colo. Flying low, he saw fences and roads... and then, "a tractor in the middle of a pond, which used to be a field, and now it's a lake. Those are not views you can see from the ground ... so they're curious."
And that distance also changes the experience for the photographer. "That's a strange, somewhat surreal sensation you get," says Wark. "I could be 500 feet away, and yet, a world away."
During the flood, he saw people stranded on a road as waters churned on all sides. "I was able to just fly over, look at it, be there with them, but then leave."
You can see more of John Wark's work on his website.