Where order meets chaos: Vibrant photos capture the patterns of civilization

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CNN Staff

The breadth of human culture around the world may seem too wide-ranging a theme to condense into a single book, but curators William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell have made an ambitious effort to do so in "Civilization," a new tome published by Thames & Hudson.

Through 500 photos taken by 140 photographers from around the world, they attempt to explore "the way we live now" in all its beauty, diversity and complexity.

"Photographers are at work everywhere, looking at everything," Todd Brandow and Bartomeu Mari write in the book's foreword. "Why not step back and try to take in the big picture?"

Among the photos included are Benny Lam's overhead photos of closet-size Hong Kong apartments; Adam Ferguson's portraits of American pilots who conducted airstrikes in the Middle East; Amalia Ulman's controversial Instagram hoax; Alejandro Cartagena's portraits taken at the US-Mexico border wall; and Ahmad Zamroni's dizzying photo of a packed mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia.

While the situations depicted are disparate, they are unified by certain themes and grouped together in chapters. In "Hive," for example, we're shown different stories of urban life, while "Flow" is filled with dizzying photos of roadways, architecture and other infrastructure.

Following a more abstract theme, "Control" focuses on how nature and humanity are fixed into uniform patterns by different authorities -- be it domineering governments, symmetrically inclined architects or particularly organized workplaces.

Writing in the book's opening chapter, Ewing describes the book, and its accompanying exhibition, as "a kind of aerial survey, or rather grand satellite composite image."

"It aims to provide the reader with a wide-angled overview of how photography deals with an exceedingly complex and abstract idea -- that is, civilization -- and how it contributes to our understanding," he says.

Look through the gallery for a sampling of life on Earth. "Civilization" by William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell, published by Thames & Hudson, is out now.

Top photo: "DPRK -- North Korea" from the series "Datazone" (2006) by Philippe Chancel.