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Guy Laliberte, Cirque Du Soleil Founder, Photographs Earth From Space

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/15/2012 3:19 pm Updated: 02/15/2012 3:19 pm

Guy Laliberte began as a humble juggler in Quebec and worked his way up the circus circuit, eventually founding the now infamous Cirque du Soleil in 1984. Twenty-five years later, the Canadian billionaire became the first commercial tourist to visit space in order to raise awareness for his One Drop Foundation. During his flight, which he calls a "poetic social mission," the good-natured performer-cum-photographer took thousands of awe-inspiring images of the Earth below. The International Space Station photos became "Gaia," a book by Assouline Publishing that was originally released last summer.

We caught up with Laliberte at a recent book release party for the special edition of "Gaia" at Kiton in New York last week, and the results are below.

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Tibet Lake Duli Shihu by Guy Laliberte

HuffPost Arts: What was it like to see the world from above for the first time?

Guy Laliberte: Well, it's an amazing experience, especially the first look. The day I left was a full moon day. Take 8 1/2 minutes and I saw Earth in a way I never saw before. I just craned around and my commander looked at me and said, "It's so beautiful." It's full of emotion; it's like being a little kid in a candy store.

HuffPost Arts: Was this an alienating experience or was it enlightening?

Guy Laliberte: Everything, because at a certain moment you are a little kid. It's very playful, but it's very emotional because there's a very interesting moment when you look out the window and see ephemeral art in motion. You see something and know you'll never see it again. There's also a physical reality of going into space. You have to train for it, so it does have an impact on your body, but it provides food for the soul.

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Turkey, the Euphrates by Guy Laliberte

HuffPost Arts: Were you seeing repeating shapes when you were looking at the Earth below?

Guy Laliberte: When you're on Earth as a kid, I would lie on the grass and see the clouds in motion -- just reverse that. I was in space and looking at Earth, and living the same relationship. So when I started taking pictures I was playful, trying to take pictures of shapes and animals. The framing is intentional. I was doing it for myself.

HuffPost Arts: How many photos did you take?

Guy Laliberte: From the window in space, I took about 7,500 with a pre-selection of about 1,200 and in the end there were about 400 chosen.

HuffPost Arts: Is the deep sea next?

Guy Laliberte: I'm ready for all kinds of experiences!

You can see a video of Laliberte in action here, from Whitewall.

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