As a young college student in the 1980s, George Steinmetz hitchhiked in the desert lands of north-central Algeria along the Sahara. In 2009 he revisited the region, now as a world-renowned photojournalist working on a book about the world’s extreme deserts and the human adaptations and settlements in them. 

He recalled the hilltop city of Ghardaa and its unique architecture. This city is actually comprised of five villages, among them Beni Isguen, which in 1982 was inscribed as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and regarded as the best-preserved example of the region’s traditional building styles and urban organization. 

The day before this image was taken, Steinmetz flew up to get a view of the town using the foot-launched, motorized paraglider—at less than 45 kilograms, the lightest motorized aircraft in the world—that allowed him to make uniquely close, low-altitude aerial photographs in remote regions. The next morning at sunrise, he made multiple flyovers above Beni Isguen, bracing the camera between his legs in order to look straight down to the pattern and colors of the village’s walled, rooftop patios and narrow streets. “There are still parts of the world that live on, in a traditional way,” Steinmetz reflects. “It’s important to know there are other worlds out there.” 

—Sarah Taqvi