Biomass/Biovoids by Daniel Ibañez and Renia Kagkou

This visual essay of “false color composite” images reveals the patterns of urban transformation across diverse landscapes by looking at the wavelengths and varying in-tensities of visible and near-infrared light reflected by the land surface. When near-infrared light is reflected from the earth’s surface, it provides a value that correlates with the capacity of the land to absorb and synthesize solar en-ergy. 

Very low values point to barren areas of rock, sand, or snow, but also to typical urban infrastructures such as roads and buildings. Moderate values represent shrub and grassland. High values indicate healthy vegetation, such as temperate and tropical forests or crops. This process of measuring reflected light enables the quantification of concentrations of green leaves and vegetation. It provides a gradient (from blue to red) that measures what is alive (red) from what is not (blue).

Furthermore, it identifies where plants are thriving and where they are under stress.The selected images bring together eight geographies  of the earth’s surface, rendering images of a particular urbanization process both within and beyond urban agglomerations. By freezing a particular moment in time, each of them depicts a unique pattern within a larger, dy-namic, and ongoing process of transformation – whether deforestation, logging, land grabbing, formal and infor-mal plantations, urban agglomerations, etc.

The visual essay proposes a threefold reading. First, a comparative reading of the different sites can be made by scale – all satellite images are at 1:250,000. Second, it allows a juxtaposition of the imprints on the ground with the patterns of urban transformation – from areas of regional specialization to urban agglomeration. Third, the near-infrared images reveal the gradients and arrays of healthy vegetation in contrast with lifeless surfaces.


Photo 1
The Amazon is being dramatically deforested in support of global urban-ization. The connectivity infrastruc-tures such as roads that enable the extraction of timber and the cultivation of soy plantations and herding of cattle are creating unprecedented patterns of deforestation, shown here in Pará State in Brazil.


Photo 2
The Amazon has become a site of land grabbing on the part of international investment firms. Both the regulatory framework and the landscape have been subject to a radical transfor-mation so as to enable the cultiva-tion of massive agricultural crops of soybeans, as shown in the Bamapito region, State of Bahia, Brazil.


Photo 3
Ancient rainforests in Indonesia are being massively plundered in support of global capitalism around the globe. These two areas of company-appropri-ated land, located on the periphery of Brunei, are three times the size of Paris and have seen their forests completely erased in support of paper industries.


Photo 4
El Chaco in Paraguay has been radical-ly transformed in the last twenty years. Both the ecological and economical value of the area has been destroyed though massive illegal logging, agricul-tural cultivation and cattle ranching.


Photo 5
This forest plantation owned by a large timber corporation lies on the border between the US and Canada. In the im-age we see the spruce-fir forest of J.D. Irving, Limited Sawmill Division.


Photo 6
Massive agricultural crops of corn, wheat, and sorghum are grown in Kansas. As in many other areas of the US midwest, this huge center-pivot ir-rigation system enables the operation-alization and intensification of land use in support of meeting food demand. 


Photo 7
Punchaw, in British Columbia, Canada, is one of the most productive timber regions in North America. This region is easily recognizable by its scattered pat-tern of plantations and logging strategies.


Photo 8
New York City is an urban agglomera-tion that represents the landscape of consumption par excellence. In con-trast to other urbanized areas of the earth, here the polarization between areas of biomass – typically urban parks – and the areas characterized by the dense urban fabric is very distinct.


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