Presents of Mind

Jill Danz

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Full Moon
by Michael Light (Knopf, $50)
Artist and photographer Michael Light has put together a dizzying photo record of the six Apollo moon landings, culled from NASA’s largely unpublished archive of 32,000 digital images. Dark faceplates, shining spacesuits, and cratered moonscapes flip by in ghostly black and white or, in a few startling instances, explosive color, all handsomely presented on matte black pages and without text. (Captions appear as an index, but the no-text decision adds to the unearthly feeling of lunar travel.) The photographs, obviously, are taken by the astronauts themselves, but none is less than spectacular: What better word for the specter of Earth rising on the Moon’s horizon?

Summit: Vittorio Sella, Mountaineer and Photographer: The Years 1879-1909
(Aperture, $50)
His first camera weighed 40 pounds, and the glass plates it exposed weighed two pounds each. With this monster and its successors, one of which accepted enormous 30-by-40-centimeter plates, Sella, born in Italy in 1859, reached and photographed summits in the Alps, the Caucasus, Alaska, and the Himalayas. His images, the first taken of many of the world’s great monoliths, are still used by climbers to map out routes, and they remain some of the most striking ever made. Among the most memorable: an 1888 shot of four men, roped together, dressed in suit coats, peering into a crevasse on the Alps’ Glacier Blanc, and a cloud-kissed 1909 portrait of K2. A 1946 paean to Sella by Ansel Adams serves as the book’s preface.

Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expeditions of George Mallory
by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld (National Geographic Books, $35)
Capping off what might be called the Year of Mallory is a photographic history of mountaineering’s most haunting figure, the driving force on three forays to Everest, in 1921, 1922, and 1924. The rich lore assembled here by alpinist-photographer Breashears and archivist Salkeld bears out the almost worshipful opinion of his contemporaries. This Cambridge intellectual was by far the strongest and most skilled of the English Himalayan hands. Although the book inevitably details this year’s discovery of his body, it doesn’t attempt to settle the question of whether he and Andrew Irvine reached the top. Instead it offers a satisfyingly comprehensive visual record of Mallory’s quest to get there. 

Glen Canyon: Images of a Lost World
photographs by Tad Nichols (Museum of New Mexico Press, $35)
“Drain Glen Canyon!” proclaim bumper stickers across the West. Good idea? Time will tell. Photographer Nichols and a couple of friends made repeated trips through the canyon in the fifties and early sixties, and the soft, shadowed beauty that he recorded in these remarkable black-and-white shots has an ethereal quality, a sense of memory hanging just beyond recall. The place was ancient, and had been ancient a thousand years before, when cliff-dwelling Indians carved petroglyphs on its walls. Now it is drowned in mud and pocked with beer cans that drift softly down from the surface of Lake Powell. Drain the lake and you’ll get mud and cans, but none of us will probably ever again see the carvings that Nichols did.

photographs by James Balog (Graphis, $60)
As an adventure in haute zoology, this volume shrieks chic. Midway through a career in magazine photojournalism, Balog made a radical departure from traditional wildlife photography, posing captive animals—Bengal tigers, Borneo orangutans—against stark white backgrounds, looking as shampooed and perfumed as any supermodel. That was the idea: to blur the distinction between humans and animals. Originally meant as a way to symbolize the “alienation of endangered species,” Balog’s stylized portraits became for him a window into the animal soul. “To look into the eyes of many animals,” he writes, “is to sense a degree of calm and certainty rarely felt in people.” 

Patagonia: Notes from the Field
edited by Nora Gallagher (Chronicle Books, $23)
A project that derives from a marketing ploy—those tantalizing expedition photos and essays that strenuously don’t pitch product in Patagonia Inc.’s catalogs—turns out to make a joyful, spectacularly good book. The 49 short essays are intense, first-person testaments by trekkers, water rats, and other outback sorts who have been to the edge and over, and then scrabbled back. Some are professionals at the word game—Gretel Ehrlich, Doug Peacock—but many of the best are not. Much of the joy, sure enough, is of the feels-good-when-it-stops variety. Read Bob McDougall on “Drowning,” or nearly, while kayaking the Stikine. For giddy contrast, read Women Outside‘s own Jean Weiss on telemarking to a Jackson Hole Christmas party from a snowbound cabin with a foxy black cocktail dress flying like a banner from her pack. These are sleeping-bag yarns of the best sort.

Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $30)
There are no surprises in this handsomely photographed tribute to Goodall’s familiar career. The chimpanzees she protects at Gombe Stream in Tanzania, and at several other African refuges, are beset by the ignorance and callousness of metastasizing civilization, most alarmingly in the form of poachers fueling a growing trade in “bush meat.” Goodall—effectively but somewhat reluctantly, one gathers, since she is never happier than with her subjects—travels the world as an itinerant saint of wildlife biology, using her reputation to raise chimp awareness. She remains first a scientist, however, reporting not only chimps’ use of tools, but behavior ranging from maternal love to what would be termed murder in the human society that theirs so closely resembles.

Strange Foods: Bushmeat, Bats and Butterflies
by Jerry Hopkins (Tuttle Publishing, $30)
The cheery alliteration of this queasy-making volume’s subtitle makes the author’s alimentary survey seem slightly more jokey than it really is. But only slightly. If you are going to eat placenta paté, or scorpion canapes, joking may get you through the meal. As for the bush meat trade that is endangering Goodall’s chimps, Hopkins notes that primates have been eaten for centuries, but new roads and refrigerator trucks in jungle regions have turned subsistence hunting into big-time—and big-time illegal—commerce. Michael Freeman’s photographs, showing the preparation of buffalo penis stew and mealworm salad in cucumber cups, are in full color and unnecessarily sharp focus. It’s delightfully disgusting.


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