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the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

A couple of books…

black, and white

in Book Reviews , Monday, March 23, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday. It all rather got lost in the noise of a family crisis, but when I finally got home it was both to an oasis of tranquility, and a pile of presents from my dearly beloved, which included two rather wonderful books, which she had cunningly noticed me drooling over in a bookshop in Milan a while ago.

Nick Brandt‘s work doesn’t really need much introduction. There are plenty of reviews all over the web-O-sphere, many gushing over the fabulous print and image quality. Well, that’s all true enough, but what really sets this book apart from me is the sense of absolute furious, controlled rage which drives it. The anger at the catastrophic decimation of Africa’s megafauna, driven mainly by the inability of wealthy, elderly chinese men to get an erection. The fury at the barbarity and wretched inhumanity of the poachers, but always balanced by a clear understand of the socio-economic factors at play.

However, Nick Brandt has done something about. He’s been instrumental in setting up the Big Life Foundation, channeling funds to help set up an effective anti-poaching wildlife protection zone. My impression is the unlike so many such initiatives, this one does not go around preaching outside values, but rather enables local organisations and individuals to reclaim their natural heritage. I’m certainly going to be a regular contributor.

Let none of this detract from the photography though. It is impressive, eloquent and extremely moving. And yeah, awesome image quality.

Well, having got that off my chest, it’s time to cool down, and what better introduction to the second of these two books, “Behind The Mountains” by Ragnar “Rax” Axelsson. Rax’s reputation as a documenter of nordic life is very well established, and this collection, illustrating and storytelling the summer’s end round up of sheep allowed to roam in the unreal, alien landscapes of the Icelandic highlands is up with his best work.

The photographic style is a little different from “Faces of the North” or “Last Days of the Arctic”, with a lot of motion blur and unusual angles. This is very effective though in communication the rush and confusion both of the round up and the often raw weather. The bool also starts off with some quite surprisingly uncharacteristic colour landscapes, setting the scene. These are very dark and moody, not much like the general approach to the rhyolite vistas of the Landmannaafréttur region. It would be interesting to see more of these.

The photos are woven in with tales from and about the stockmen working these regions. They’re evocative, often funny, and at same time elegiac. While nowhere near the catastrophe exposed by Nick Brandt, Rax is also documenting a way of life which has lasted maybe 1000 years, but is clearly close to an end. In Iceland people are rapidly retreating to the towns and cities, leaving the rugged countryside to tourists, adventurers and photo workshops. I wonder how sustainable that’s going to turn out to be, even in the medium term?

Both books are available at The Book Repository, by the way, and they take considerably more care with them than Amazon in my experience.

 

Iceland, remixed

not like in the good old days

in Photography , Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Iceland … it’s hard to avoid it these days. According to various sources, such as Alda Sigmundsdóttir’s “The Iceland Weather Report”, over 27 Billion people are expected to visit Iceland next year, which is quite a lot. Of course 25.6 Billion of those will be Fine Art Landscape Photographers (or birders, which is much the same thing), and they will all publish AWESOME GREAT CAPTUREs of bits of ice trying to mind their own business melting away on a black sand beach, of Skogafoss and Gullfoss waterfalls, of a place puffins used to live, and some steam. And most of these will get published as publicity material for forthcoming, unique, book-now-before-it-sells-out, photo workshops (which will principally visit the aforementioned and now very stressed bits of ice).

Overexposure, anyone ?  Iceland, and photography of Iceland especially, has become a commodity. Of course you don’t have to go to Iceland to photograph it. You could also go to Reykjavik to drink a lot. Iceland has options, you know.

I guess I’m lucky that I got in before the rush, although really it was the beginning of the rush. Not so long ago, even the “Golden Circle” was a bit of an adventure. Now (I imagine) it is a continuous loop of huge tourist coaches.

For me Iceland was never really about the honeypot locations. It was always much more to do with the unique atmosphere that permeates the whole island, the idea that pretty much everybody knows everybody else, the weirdness and yet familiarity of gas stations 200km from anywhere, the friendly and yet aloof, alien people. And all this wrapped up in a batshit-crazy landscape.

And yet when I looked at the photos I had published here in my galleries, there was a strong element of “look, I’ve been there too!” shots, of trying to play to the gallery rather than show photographs that I have a stronger connection to.  And so, setting aside Venice for an evening or two, I had a retrospective trawl through the 6000-odd photos I’ve accumulated over the past 10 years, and I came up with a new selection.

The “Iceland Landscapes” and “Iceland - the human landscape” galleries are now offline, and a new one has taken their place. In a boldly imaginative move, I’ve titled it “Iceland”. Hope you like it.

And maybe when those 27 Billion people have got bored and moved on to somewhere else, like Belgium, for instance, and when Icelanders just get a little over themselves been so awesomely cool, maybe I’ll return.

Snowhenge dot net  photography  other stuff  gallery

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Venice.

 

Absolutely not Sigur Rós

“Puzzle” by Amiina

in Music , Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Although I’ve tried very hard, I have to confess: I really don’t like Sigur Rós very much. In small doses, ok, by the problem is all their doses are pretty much exactly the same.  They just do the same song, again, and again, and again, with Jónsi warbling the same gobbledygook over the top of it on infinite repeat.  But they’re extremely hip, so everybody like them. Or pretends to like them.  Actually I do like the Heima film, but probably because the visuals flesh things out a bit. Otherwise, I’m calling Emperor’s clothes.

Puzzle 260

So I was quite surprised, the other day, when I stumbled across Amiina, apparently originally Sigur Rós’ string section. Their 2010 release, “Puzzle”, is really rather good. Not too overly “Icelandic”, which is a good thing, but still with a touch of the exotic. Naturally, like all good Icelanders, they sing about coffee, but never mind. Not that Icelandic “coffee” actually merits singing about. Avoiding, yes. And their song “In the Sun” (which features coffee) does start off sounding an awful lot like Ólöf Arnalds’ “Vinkonur”.  But nevertheless, “Puzzle” is a gem. Quiet without being ambient, inventive without being too clever, and tuneful - quite unlike their ex-employers.

Check out their website.

 

Northern Lights Extravaganza in Iceland

Mr Grumpy is not impressed

in Humour , Monday, March 18, 2013

Northern Lights Extravaganza in Iceland:

northernlights-breiddalsvik_psConditions for viewing the northern lights in Iceland last night were spectacular with exceptionally clear skies and high Auroral activity.

(Via Iceland Review)

Well I could soon put a stop to all that. All I need to do is just hop on a plane to Keflavik and I can guarantee 100% cloud cover, drizzle, and blown fuses in all Aurora activation circuits.

Of course they’d start up again the day I left.

Anyway what’s the big bloody deal ? For one, all Aurora photos look exactly the same, and for another, the sky’s not supposed to be that colour anyway. Load of fuss over nothing if you ask me. Which you didn’t.

 

Iceland Within

Impressions of Bruce Percy’s new book

in Book Reviews , Monday, November 12, 2012

I didn’t think I really needed any more Iceland photography books. I’ve got quite a lot, in all shapes and sizes. Some are excellent, some so-so, a couple are outstanding and one or two are crap. But altogether they add up to a lot. Or indeed too many.

lots of iceland books

Rather too much of a good thing?

So, when I first heard that Bruce Percy’s second book was to be about Iceland, I was perhaps a little underwhelmed. But eventually, for various reasons, I decided to order it, and it arrived a few days ago. Now, this is absolutely not a review. Bruce has stated that he doesn’t like reading reviews, and I’m not much good at writing them. But this book, “Iceland - a Journal of Nocturnes” makes me want to write about it. It’s a bit like that feeling you got as a teenager when you discovered a new band, that you wanted to keep to yourself, but tell everybody about at the same time. This book is like that. First of all, it’s not just a book of photos. It’s a work of art in its own right. Beautifully presented, with every detail obviously obsessed over, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect to find wrapped around a David Sylvian CD. The typography alone is worth the price of entry. An astonishing number of photographers show absolutely zero design skills, or taste. Bruce Percy is not among that number.

The photography is masterful and close to unique. I’ll admit I’d got a bit jaded with Bruce’s long-exposure style, finding it all a little repetitive. But that was from looking at small JPGs on the web. Here, in print, all together and given space to breathe these photos come alive. Many people, starting with Michael Kenna of course, have done the low-light long-exposure thing. But Bruce adds his own character, and in particular an extremely delicate sensibility for colour to the mix, and avoids the heavy-handedness and sterility which so many Kenna copyists suffer from.

Iceland is a magnet for photographers, and these days is heavily over-exposed. As a source of dramatic, contrasty, saturated landscapes it’s pretty much endless. Point, shoot wind up the contrast to drama+11 in Photoshop, post it on Flickr and wait for the “great capture” comments to come flooding in. Well you won’t find any such great captures here. There is plenty of drama, and indeed contrast, but it is subtle, controlled, and feels part of the scene rather than plastered on top. Perhaps because Bruce works exclusively with colour slide film, a restricted and unforgiving medium which offers little scope for Photoshopping, the natural ambience doesn’t get suffocated, and a realistic luminosity pervades.

The cornerstone of this book, though, is a few hundred meters of black sand beach, where the outlet from the Jökulsarlon flows into the Atlantic. Although many thousands of photographers have visited this area, Bruce has captured - and seemingly been captured by - it’s soul. My reading is that this beach is in some way his muse. In a collection of photographs totally devoid of any sign of life or human intervention, these lonely scattered ice fragments are recomposed into living sculptures. I was very prepared to just shrug my shoulders and think “same old”, but I was very wrong. In fact I find the rest of the photos, to one degree or another, rather incidental in this context, and I keep coming back to the beach.


What I see here is not a book of landscape photographs, but a book which obliquely reveals something of the photographer. That’s pretty common in other areas, such as street or reportage, but not in landscape, where we tend to go for the pretty picture and the quick win. This book shows how a collection of work can be much stronger than a set of random images. Iceland is the stage, not the subject.

I didn’t need another book about Iceland. But I did need this.

 

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