An Auckland photographer who has attracted international recognition for nude aerial photographs he took of his wife in the 1980s, said the pictures almost never came to light.

John Crawford unearthed the old photographs when he moved to Auckland eight years ago and put them on his website last year as a "point of difference".

"I almost forgot about them," Crawford said. "It was lucky I still had the negatives."

Shot on 35mm film from a hovering helicopter, the photos show Crawford's then 28-year-old wife Carina lying naked on various backdrops including a pig farm, tarmac, railway line, beach, a moving truck, and among cars.


Now 62, Crawford said he took the series of pictures because of his fascination with abstract patterns and lines. He paid his wife $100 each time to lie naked in the shots to provide scale.

"It emphasises how we are so minuscule and insignificant in size in relation to the planet."

Each photograph took weeks of planning and involved calling in favours from friends including rearranging the carriages of a train so the colours co-ordinated.

When the pictures went online the commercial photographer was bombarded with interest from art collectors, designers, magazines and newspapers the world over.

"They're strikingly different. I'm not bragging, they are unique. They're complex but very simple."

The aerial nudes, shot in Taranaki between 1984 and 1987, provided a perspective without a horizon line and could only be done on overcast days with no wind.

"I've got a very abstract way of working. I love lines and patterns and shapes so for me this was a dream. Basically it was a case of coming up with the weirdest ideas and pulling them off."

The fact the images were shot on film had captured the attention of viewers because digital cameras had made photography "accessible to anyone".

"People have asked me did I get the images from Google Earth and superimpose them?"

Although the model is no longer his wife Crawford said she was "still gorgeous".

"She's chuffed about it. She was pretty brave. In one of those shots she had to lie very close to muddy sheep shit."

Crawford, who is publishing a retrospective book of his works, is yet to decide on the offers of exhibitions and contracts which were flooding in.

* To view John Crawford's aerial nudes photos, visit his webpage (Warning: full frontal nudity)