It is curious to see the world from the air. As we rise above our usual ground-level vision, we gain a broader perspective on our built environment and the human impact on the land. Terrain that is familiar to us takes on new form, and unexpected marks and monuments reveal themselves.

As one climbs to higher altitudes, the landscape transforms into a world in miniature, with buildings, roads, fields, and houses resembling a map or scale model. Pull back enough and one is struck by the overwhelming presence of human beings on the land. Our structures, pathways, and geometries stretch out over vast distances. Where there is space, we tend to fill it.

While humans exert great control over their surroundings, the bird's-eye view reveals how the topography influences, and often limits, our decisions. Landforms, bodies of water, and other natural features may determine the types of crops we grow in a given region, the placement of utilities and infrastructure, and the areas where we settle. We are as much at the mercy of the land that we inhabit as we are shapers of that environment.

To gain a better understanding of the human impact on the land in Western North Carolina (WNC), as well as the land's impact on us, the Western Carolina University Fine Art Museum commissioned renowned artist and pilot Alex S. MacLean to take aerial photographs of the region. Focusing on the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina, MacLean made three week-long visits to WNC in different seasons, flying his high wing airplane over the landscape while simultaneously photographing the scenery below. This exhibition brings together 28 images of the over 2,000 that he took during the project. Beautifully composed and sometimes abstract and enigmatic, these images capture the unique qualities of the region's built environment while also raising broader questions about humanity's impact on the land through agriculture, energy, industry, and housing.