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Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky by Art Wolfe (Phot

Obregon

New York City, US
2613 posts

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Obregon Moderator Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Charter Member
Mon 15-Mar-04 01:01 PM

Ansel Adams, who is probably the world's most famous landscape photographer, worked in black and white. According to Eliot Porter, a color photographer, Adams maintained that color photography had no legitimate place in the art of photography because it was too literal to be an art form and that it was not possible to practice it interpretively. In this book, Art Wolfe once again proves that Adams was wrong.

Wolfe presents us with landscapes from all over the world, from places where few us will ever travel, that are spectacular. Many of the pictures, particularly those of rugged mountains, will leave the reader in awe of the natural landscape.

But Wolfe is not just concerned with the subject matter. He never forgets the qualities of light and color. Most of his shots are from the "magic hours" of sunrise and sunset when the sky is diffused with the range of colors from intense blues to bright reds. Yet,while the mountains that form the backdrop for the lighting effects bask in the red glow, the foregrounds are frequently plunged into darkness, creating feelings of both repose and mystery.

The pictures are arranged into five chapters called Desert, Ocean, Mountain, Forest and Polar, but these subjects often creep from one chapter into another. What is more interesting is when Wolfe presents a series of pictures, often on facing pages, that look at the same subject in different light, or different subjects in the same light. This allows us to explore the subtle differences between the pictures and come to a deeper understanding of Wolfe's art and the subject.

Technical data and Wolfe's commentary on the circumstances of the taking of each picture are in the back of the book, where they do not detract from the optical feast, but are available to those who may be interested in these details.

Beginning each chapter is a short essay by Art Davidson that is well written and has some relationship to the subsequent photographs. Such essays have become mandatory but, like the ones in this book, they often seem to have a life of their own that does not really illuminate the pictures. Perhaps I'm asking too much, but I have the example of photographer Galen Rowell's book "Alaska: Images of the Country" in which Rowell quoted selected passages from author John McPhee's book "Coming into the Country" to give us a strong but intimate view of that place.

Speaking of Rowell, one of his most famous books was "Mountain Light" where he showed photographers how to capture mountains in their distinctive illunination. I don't know if Wolfe studied Rowell, but if he did, he has surpassed his teacher.

One of the book's strong points may also be its weakness for some readers. Wolfe often shows a photograph of a mountain backdrop bathed in magic-hours light, with a body of water in the foreground reflecting the mountains and concealed in shadow. While some viewers will take the opportunity to compare these similar pictures to explore Wolfe's style and subject, others will find them too repetitious.

I also have to say a word about environmentalism, and here I know some people may react to my criticism apart from the book. Wolfe has said that he put this book together to underscore the importance of preserving the wild places he has photographed. Introductions by Robert Redford and John Adams, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, reemphasize the point. Then Davidson's strident essays speak almost exclusively of man's efforts to dismember the landscape. These photographs are so eloquent that I see no necessity for adding a stream of text to distract us from the pictures, each of which is truly worth 10,000 words.

Despite these criticisms I do not believe anyone who looks into the book will be unmoved or feel that they could better have spent their time.

G