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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 Landmannaafr├ęttur 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.