If you’ve seen one book of nature photography, you might think you’ve seen them all. Think again. Get ready to see everything from anemones to elephants in a whole new light.
BACK TO NATURE
Portraitists are known to spend a lot of time working with their subjects to get just the right shot. Acclaimed photographer Susan Middleton does just that, but her subjects are an unusual lot. We’re used to seeing evocative human portraits and even animal portraits, but invertebrate marine life? Jellyfish, maybe. But flatworms? Slugs? Middleton collects all these animals and many more, and sits with them for hours, waiting to take what can only be called their portraits. The results in Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life are nothing short of spectacular. Set against a stark backdrop of plain white or black, each image seems full of life and movement, as if set to music. Middleton shares some of her techniques as well as the impetus behind her work: giving a face to the invertebrates that make up 98 percent of our ocean’s animal life, at a time when their environment faces unprecedented challenges.
Where Middleton’s jellyfish glide gently across the page, John Hallmén’s magnified images of insects stare boldly out at the viewer. The Swedish nature photographer uses the latest digital technology to create startling color images of beetles, mites, flies and more. Bugs Up Close: A Magnified Look at the Incredible World of Insects features full-page pictures that bring out every detail in these diverse creatures, with extreme close-ups of compound eyes and enlarged pictures of ants that show their individual hairs. Some images are a challenge to understand at first glance, such as the incredibly detailed image of the mouthparts of a tick, but Lars-Åke Janzon’s text offers ample explanation. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief natural history of the insect, along with their common and scientific names. It’s easy to get caught up in the patterns Hallmén highlights in his subjects’ bodies, hair and eyes, but true-sized silhouettes of each insect appear nearby as well, reminding us that these larger-than-life images are just that.
Amazon river dolphins, copyright © 2014 Art Wolfe. From Earth Is My Witness, reprinted with permission from Earth Aware Editions.
WHOLE WIDE WORLD
At first glance, Art Wolfe’s nature photography feels more familiar than either Middleton’s or Hallmén’s. The sweeping vistas and colorful tribal portraits remind us of National Geographic magazine, and in fact the collection of photographs in Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe is narrated by the National Geographic Society’s Wade Davis. Wolfe’s body of work, presented here in large format and spanning more than 50 years, truly celebrates photojournalism as an art form. The sheer scope of Wolfe’s work is a bit overwhelming: He has worked on every continent and hundreds of locations around the globe. This collection takes us on some of those journeys, which Wolfe makes accessible with his attention to color, pattern and atmosphere. He captures the geometry of Namibian sand dunes and Ethiopian tribal scarification patterns, as well as the vibrant red clothing of Kenyan Maasai tribesmen and the dazzling, bejeweled headscarves of Rajasthani women in India. Seemingly infinite landscapes pour over two-page spreads and often require additional page folds to hold the wealth of the world that Wolfe observes.
AND I MUST GO
Scaling back to North America, the scenery is no less majestic in America’s Great Hiking Trails, a comprehensive photographic pilgrimage that traverses each of America’s 11 national scenic trails. Photographer and avid hiker Bart Smith was the first person to hike all of these trails—from the Appalachian to the Pacific Crest and all those in between—and he documented every step. Smith’s mostly unpeopled photographs, accompanied by Karen Berger’s informative writing, convey the unique atmosphere of each trail, from the incredibly green, lush swamps of the Florida Trail to the dusty, dry deserts of the Arizona Trail. Smith captures the grandeur and intimacy of walking these trails with images of breathtaking mountaintop vistas and human-sized footpaths across otherwise untouched meadows. Through this contrast, he illustrates humanity’s effect on nature as clearly as nature’s effect on humanity.
Most books of nature photography are content to illustrate the known world, albeit in new ways. The images selected for William A. Ewing’s new collection, Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography, take that one step further, as the featured artists ask what might have been or what might yet be. Abstract chapter categorizations such as “Sublime,” “Pastoral,” “Rupture,” “Hallucination” and “Reverie” reveal humanity’s hand in the development of the world’s landscapes. Philippe Chancel illustrates the truly skyscraping modern construction in Dubai, and Simon Norfolk’s provocative series depicts one military tank in four seasons in Afghanistan. These contrast with Didier Massard’s otherworldly “Aurora Borealis” and “Mangrove,” which reveal the haunting beauty of the planet, as well as indoor landscapes by Robert Polidori. Ewing’s selections show art’s power not only to observe and document nature, but also to imagine its future.