photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Mystical Iceland - Alessandra Meniconzi

in Photography , Thursday, November 29, 2007

This review is very, very overdue, but maybe with Christmas coming up, it isn't so badly timed. I have written about Alessandra Meniconzi before, and reviewed her first book, The Silk Road. This, her second major publication, is also the fruit of several years of hard work (maybe not quite so hard, or quite so many, as for The Silk Road, but probably considerably wetter!). This time Alessandra turns her focus on Iceland, which is pretty much guaranteed to get my attention.


"Mystisches Island", to give it its German title, is a collection of photographs spanning pretty much all of Iceland, both from the ground and the air, often battling against Iceland's worst weather, and indeed taking advantage of it.

Iceland is becoming a more and more popular subject for photographers, including a growing number of very talented native Icelanders. So what can another book bring to the market ? Well, in this case, a lot. Iceland is, often, spectacular, and any competent photographer should be able to bring home a few attention grabbing images. But that isn't what we have here. Somehow these photographs convey a strong sense of place, of fascination, and involvement. They don't feel like they were taken with an audience in mind, but more like from a strong, personal passion for the place, the people, and its stories. They are photographs that demanded to be made, publication or no publication. Although these photographs are principally landscapes, there is often a strong sense of narrative within them. I could not say if it is conscious or not, but a handful of the photos also seem to pay tribute to some of Iceland's leading photographers, including Sigurgeir Sigurjónsson and Ragnar Axelsson.

I guess in some ways this book appeals to me because I know a lot of these places, and have tried, not very successfully, to take some of these photographs myself. It is a bit weird when another photographer manages to take pretty much the same photo as me, only considerably better.

It is difficult to pick out a favourite from the book's 120 or so photos, but this one has a particular appeal to me...


photo © Alessandra Meniconzi

..the space, the emptiness, the timelessness, the colour - and of course the sheep - these are all elements that make Iceland what it is.

And this leads me to my one criticism of the book: the title. To me, "Mystical Iceland" sounds a bit "new age", and undersells the book. Maybe "Elemental Iceland" would be more appropriate. That's what it feels like to me.

"Mystisches Iceland" is very highly recommended (could you guess?), and is published with German text by Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg, ISBN 978-3-7822-0951-9. I believe an English version is in planning, but I haven't seen it yet. Alessandra has also published a 2008 calendar featuring her Icelandic photography (ISBN-10: 3765446734, ISBN-13: 978-3765446733), but this too is unfortunately elusive.


David Ward - Landscape Within

in Book Reviews , Thursday, September 15, 2005

david ward - landscape within - book cover I don't quite know how I missed this book. I am an avid reader of landscape and nature photography books, and I had a passing, chance encounter with the author, David Ward, last year, but I missed it. Clearly Amazon's "you might like this" algorithm needs some tuning. I was actually sent it by a friend, Icelandic landscape photographer Daniel Bergmann, how himself had discovered it apparently because I mentioned David Ward to him. My brain clearly needs some offline maintenance.

Anyway, let me say it up front. "Landscape Within - insights and inspiration for photographers" is the best book on landscape photography I have ever read, including classic stuff like Ansell Adams "Making of Forty Photographs". What is special about this book is that the author places landscape photography in an extremely convincing artistic and critical context. David Ward is a gifted photographer, but is also a highly erudite and skillful writer and communicator. Whilst his enthusiasm for his subject is clear, he remains objective, and manages to fit a remarkably complete and cohesive story into relatively few words. It's a fairly short book, but not too short.

Although he quotes many sources, his own voice comes through, and what you end up with is a strikingly well argued manifesto for the artistic and social importance of landscape photography. The final section on semiotics is worth the price of the book alone, and here as well he adds his own twist.

The icing on the cake is the inclusion of a set of simply fabulous photographs, which, rather than carry heavy captions labouring some point or the other, are largely left to tell their own story - following the philosophy which devolves from the text.

I just hope that David Ward's skill as a writer and educator does not eclipse his work as a photographer. The few words I exchanged with him when our paths crossed last year, when he was very busy giving his full attention to a workshop group, indicated to me that on top of all this he is a thoroughly nice human being.

You can see some of his photos here, but to be honest, they deserve a far better web site. Whatever, buy the book. If you are at all interested in the real meaning of landscape photography, you will not regret it.

The Silk Road by Alessandra Meniconzi

in Book Reviews , Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Silk Road is the title of a book recently published by Swiss traveller and photographer Alessandra Meniconzi. I've wanted to post on a review of this for some weeks, but just couldn't find time to do this mini-review will have to do for now.


Bringing together photographs taken during a number of voyages through Western, Central and Eastern Asia, the book retraces the network of routes collectively known as the fabled "Silk Road".

This collection really is something quite out of the ordinary. The photographs of landscapes and people (and The Silk Road is very much about people) are simply radiant. Some good examples of her work from the Himalaya are here. The way in which the light is captured in these photos is difficult to express in words, as so much emotion is conveyed through them. At nearly 250 pages, this is a substantial piece of work. The book is beautifully presented, and a real pleasure to explore. I guess my favourite part is the section on Tajakistan - a practically unheard of Central Asian republic - but there are gems everywhere.

Meniconzi travelled frequently by mountain bike, well off the beaten track, and took the time to become familiar to and with the people of the regions she travelled through. This is no voyeuristic collection, no "click and run" operation, but a work which is full of empathy for the people it represents.

It is telling that she has little time for discussion of the apparatus of photography, revealing only that she uses just a few lenses and a basic camera. Quite a lesson for those of us who are so sure that a better camera and a €10000 lens would make us geniuses.

You can find out more about Alessandra Meniconzi at her web site, as well as information on ordering the book.

I think it is fairly clear that I highly recommend it!

Helmut Hirler - Iceland

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I discovered this book by the German landscape photographer Helmut Hirler in Zürich. It is one of a small series of very nicely produced panoramic photography books, but this one is really quite different: black & white, mainly infrared (possibly all) panoramas of Icelandic landscapes. With a terrain as colourful as Iceland, black & white is not immediately obvious, but these really work.


The book itself is beautifully presented, a cloth bound volume held in a slipcase. Printing quality is excellent. Hirler, who seems to have quite a strong reputation in Europe, appears to have used a Linhof 617 camera, although technical details are non-existent (not that this matters). He has a feature page at Linhof, which would tend to confirm this assumption.

There are some gorgeous images in this book, especially of the many impressive Icelandic waterfalls. A particularly striking image is an ethereal, other worldly shot of the settlement at Glaumbær, and another favourite is the rivulets and falls at Hraunfossar. Everywhere his treatment is delicate, with a strong eye for composition, and without any sign of the tendency towards gloom and despondency all too often apparently beloved by germanic artists.

The only criticism I do have is that the sequence of images at Dyrhólaey is a bit dull at times, and overlong, although one photo of the sea swirling around a basalt stack is quite magical.

All in all this is a very unusual treatment of a subject that is becoming more and more popular, and it deserves a wider audience.

It doesn't seem so easy to find in the anglophile part of the Internet, but it can be found on the German Amazon site.

"Iceland" is published by Edition Panorama, ISBN 3-89823-189-5

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