In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, Ben Grant '07, founder of Daily Overview, shares his most memorable lessons from Haverford faculty and his favorite satellite images of the planet.
1. Can you recount a memorable Haverford experience or faculty member?
During the fall of my sophomore year, we upset Germantown Academy in soccer in front of a huge crowd at home. I remember walking into Col. Miller's history class the next day and he congratulated all the soccer players in the class on the win. Offhandedly, I said "Yeah, we got lucky." He stopped in his tracks and replied, "No you didn't. Luck is the place where preparation and opportunity intersect. You prepared, you showed up, and you won." I often think about his response if I'm nervous about an upcoming presentation or exhibition. If you prepare as well as you can, you create your own luck.
2. What inspired you to start Daily Overview?
At my first job out of college, I couldn't figure out why everyone ate lunch by themselves everyday. As an excuse to bring people together, I started a space club and began preparing a talk each week on various topics related to the cosmos. For one meeting, I decided to focus on satellites and use a mapping program to ﬁnd some satellite imagery and explain how it works. In the midst of that search, I wanted to see what would happen if I typed 'Earth' into the search bar, hoping it would zoom out to show a picture the entire planet. When I pressed enter, to my surprise, it did the opposite of what I hoped for, and zoomed in. The map had indeed settled on Earth – Earth, Texas. I was astounded by what I saw. My screen ﬁlled up with a stunning patchwork of green and brown circles (seen below). It turns out I was seeing pivot irrigation ﬁelds, a frequent sighting in the midwest where sprinklers water crops in a circular pattern. Everything changed for me in that moment.
Soon enough, I became obsessed with finding new patterns and had amassed a library of forty purposefully composed and touched up satellite images. Because of my previous dabbling in photography and painting, my instinct was to first find the imagery and then take it a step further by enhancing it in Photoshop. I felt like I needed to do something more with the images so one night I stayed up all night and built a website. I set a goal to share one each day and "Daily Overview" was born.
3. Do you have a particular theme with the images you choose to share?
I made a decision from the outset of the project that the images would focus on the landscapes that humans have created. In line with the project's mission, my book that will be released next week is broken down into nine chapters, separated by the different forms of human activity visible on the planet's surface (e.g., "Where We Harvest", "Where We Live", "Where We Waste"). Ultimately, I believe the project harnesses the incredible technology and vantage point of these satellites to better understand the intricacy of the things we have constructed, the sheer complexity of the systems we have developed, and the impact that we have had on the planet.
4. What lessons from Haverford do you carry with you, still?
I'm grateful that Haverford offered an environment that not only encouraged you to try new things, but also made you feel comfortable when you did so. I can see how easy it is for students, especially those in high school, to feel pressure to find a particular thing they are good at and derive a label from that skill to define themselves - the soccer player, the actor, the science nerd, etc. I think my time at Haverford encouraged me to dismiss that notion and helped me realize that you can always be more than just one thing, that you can always add more skills or hobbies to your repertoire as you get older. I think this lesson was present for me as I developed an interest in art and photography while rowing for all four years of college, and was also there as I began to pursue artistic endeavors like Daily Overview outside of my full-time job after I graduated. As we age, the things we are passionate about will certainly change. Haverford taught me that it is enjoyable and exciting - not intimidating and dangerous - to figure out what those things are and to explore what is possible.
Benjamin Grant '07 is the author of "Overview." The book takes its inspiration from Daily Overview — an Instagram project he started in December 2013. His daily posts have both delighted and challenged his audience from all corners of the globe. For "Overview," Grant has curated and created more than 200 original images by stitching together numerous high‑resolution satellite photographs. With each overview, he aims to not only inspire a fresh perspective of our planet but also encourage a new understanding of what human impact looks like. Grant graduated from Yale University where he studied world history, art history, and rowed on the heavyweight crew team. He lives in New York City.
Photos (courtesy of Benjamin Grant):
Benjamin Grant '07 pictured with his overview of the Arlit Uranium Mine in Arlit, Niger
"The First Overview," pivot irrigation fields in Earth, Texas
Belgium's "Port of Antwerp," the second largest port in Europe behind the Port of Rotterdam