Photography Archive

The art of ‘honouring the landscape’, by Charlie Waite

The photographer Charlie Waite, who was interviewed recently on Deskbound Traveller, was the opening speaker in December at a photography conference in Penrith, on the edge of the Lake District, where he delivered something of a master-class (minus the technicalities) in making landscapes. You can watch the whole hour-long session free through the website of the excellent magazine On Landscape

Travel books of 2018

The following are my favourite books on travel and place published this year, plus coffee-table books that would make good Christmas presents for travellers. A shorter version appears in print in today’s Sunday Telegraph and online.
  I compiled my roundup for Telegraph Travel towards the end of November, since when there have been some late but notable arrivals, including a couple I mentioned last week, from Horatio Clare and David Grann.
  I’ve reviewed most of the travel books for The Daily Telegraph (and you’ll find more about them here on Deskbound Traveller), but not the first two mentioned below. Coincidentally, they are from the same publisher, and from writers based in North America. While I was checking when Lands of Lost Borders would appear in Britain (it came out in October), I found a note on Chesapeake Requiem (not as yet published on this side of the pond but available, of course, online). 

 

WORDS

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris (Dey St/HarperCollins, £20)
Kate Harris, an academic high-flyer from Canada, had ambitions to be an astronaut, then decided there was exploring enough to be done on planet Earth. Her account of cycling the Silk Road has given me more pleasure than most travel books — no: make that most books — I’ve read this year. Lands of Lost Borders is about frontiers and breaking through them. On the road, Harris, who is in her mid-thirties, pedals with a childhood friend to places where authorities don’t want her to go, including Tibet. On the page, she flits easily across supposed boundaries between travelogue and memoir, science and poetry. The result is a marvellous debut by a wanderer and wonderer, an author with boundless curiosity and a zest for life that enthuses every page.

Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift (Dey St — US publication, various prices online)
This is a story of a small and singular place seeing changes that will soon affect the whole world. At the broadest point of the Chesapeake Bay, “at the mercy of nature’s wildest whims”, sits Tangier Island, whose inhabitants for generations have harvested crabs and oysters. The very water that sustains their community — one of 470 conservative and deeply religious people — is also slowly erasing it. Scientists say that the island, which has lost two thirds of its land since 1850, could become the first American town to fall victim to rising sea levels caused by climate change; the locals say the problem is erosion. Swift lived among the islanders, and his account, at once affectionate and inquiring, is a superb piece of reporting.

Skybound: A Journey in Flight by Rebecca Loncraine (Picador, £16.99)
Two years after being diagnosed (at 35) with breast cancer, Rebecca Loncraine passed a gliding club and found herself booking a lesson for the next day. “I needed something new, something big and intense,” she said. “I wanted to live boldly as it might not be for very long.” Gliding provided that something, and her “private love letters to the wind” were the origin of Skybound, which she had all but finished when — cancer having returned in her abdomen — she died in September 2016. It’s an extraordinary book, one in which the writer, for whom the world had closed down, feels it reopen, and carries the reader up on the thermals with her.

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth (Particular Books, £16.99)
Adam Weymouth paddled an 18ft glass-fibre canoe down the Yukon, almost 2,000 miles through Canada and Alaska, to the Bering Sea. His account of that journey is so assured, so accomplished, that I found it hard to believe it was his first book. He hoped he could explain the decline in numbers of king salmon and show how the lives of those who depend on the fish are changing. If he is frustrated in his first objective, he succeeds fully in his second, in his tracing of the relationship between fish and people, and “of the imprint that one leaves on the other”. It’s a story about a sparsely populated place but one that’s rich in characters, and it’s beautifully written.

Ground Work: Writings on Places and People edited by Tim Dee (Jonathan Cape, £16.99)
The places celebrated here range from a railed-in London park, by way of Clifton Suspension Bridge, to the deep woods of eastern Finland. Dee’s contributors remind us of the harm we have done to everything from whales to house sparrows, but also of the good we could yet do through organisations such as Common Ground, which seeks “imaginative ways to engage people with their local environment” and which will benefit from the proceeds of this absorbing anthology. It’s a book that’s as much about the marks places leave on us as we leave on them. It offers succour rather than — in the editor’s own phrase — “sunset songs”.

God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright (Allen Lane, £20)
How could a prize-winning liberal writer possibly feel at home in the heart of Trumpland? In God Save Texas, Lawrence Wright tries to provide an answer to a question he is often asked by friends and colleagues. In the process, he offers a fascinating, multi-layered portrait of the Lone Star State. If it’s unlikely to persuade those friends and colleagues to follow his lead and relocate, it will certainly surprise them. Houston, for example, accepts more refugees than any city in the United States; and at the last count (2010) Texas had the largest number of Muslim adherents in the country.

The Crossway by Guy Stagg (Picador, £16.99)
Guy Stagg, who is an atheist and “not much of a walker”, quit his job in his mid-twenties (on The Daily Telegraph) and set out in 2013 to make a pilgrimage of more than 3,440 miles (5,500 km) from Canterbury to Jerusalem. His hope was that he could mend himself after mental illness. The Crossway was blistering to write, in more ways than one, but is beautiful to read. It’s proof that you can still cross a continent in the manner of a medieval pilgrim — even an unbelieving one — and throw yourself confidently on the charity of others. I finished it certain that the author, though he tortures himself about his own worth, is hugely talented, and hoping, too, that he has retained a measure of the peace he found on the road.

The Immeasurable World by William Atkins (Faber & Faber, £20)
In his follow-up to The Moor, Atkins turns his attention to the desert, which has, at various times and in various cultures, been seen as a realm of demonic temptation and a monkish retreat, a proving ground for explorers and pioneers, a prison for criminals and dissidents, a “wasteland” for the testing of nuclear weapons, and an ideal venue for what Atkins calls “the most excessive party on earth”: the annual Burning Man festival, where last year 70,000 people made a spectacle of themselves on a dry lakebed in Nevada. The desert, as this subtle and quietly powerful book demonstrates, can be whatever the mind makes of it.

The Debatable Land by Graham Robb (Picador, £20)
This history of a territory that once straddled borders, that was neither Scottish nor English, is both a scholarly work of revisionism and an entertaining read. Robb and his wife are keen cyclists, and his book was researched as much on the road as in the library. One of the pleasures of reading it is to watch the author, like a frontier-dodging reiver (or robber), slip so easily between past and present, between manuscript and moor, between battlefield site and the 127 bus (“a transnational village hall on wheels”).

 

PICTURES

Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures by Bonnie McCurry (Laurence King, £50)
Steve McCurry was a traveller before he was a photographer. Even as a child, his sister says, he was “hopping trains to forbidden places”, exhibiting the independent streak that would one day send him trekking with mujahideen fighters into the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan. His career is hardly undocumented (Untold, recounting the stories behind images such as “The Afghan Girl”, appeared as recently as 2013), but this volume, compiled and written by Bonnie McCurry, a retired teacher who manages his office, is revealing of the forces that shaped him early on. It’s frank as well as fond, and its 350-or-so images include about 100 that have never previously been published.

Born to Ice by Paul Nicklen (teNeues, £80)
Born to Ice, says the actor and environmental campaigner Leonardo DiCaprio in a foreword, “showcases the life’s work of an artist whose love of the landscape, and each animal in it, is so palpable that emotion echoes through every image.” The title is as true of the photographer as it is of the subjects he captures in glorious images from the polar regions. Nicklen grew up in Baffin Island, Canada. Having studied to be a wildlife biologist, he tired of encounters with animals that produced nothing but data sheets, and quit at 26 to see if he could make a go of photography. He packed 600lb of equipment, including two tents, and had a pilot drop him in the high Arctic for three months. “The view through my lens is now your view,” he says. “Their world is now our shared world… let’s work together to protect it.”

African Twilight by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher (Rizzoli, £115)
No continent is urbanising faster than Africa. The rush to the towns is a theme for many photographers, but what interests Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher is what’s being lost in the process. Their African Ceremonies (1999), documenting traditional rites and rituals in 26 countries, won a UN Award for Excellence. African Twilight, another fascinating two-volume study that has been 12 years in the making, completes their journey. It includes ceremonies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — which they couldn’t enter earlier — and the coronation of the voodoo king in Ouidah, Benin, a once-in-a-generation happening. Forty per cent of what they document here, they say, has already vanished.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 28 (Natural History Museum, £25)
Among the 100 wonderful images in this book, chosen from some 45,000 entries from 95 countries, are many exploiting innovations in equipment. Pictures taken from drones feature for the first time (though the judges are mindful of the disturbance such devices can cause) and camera-trap shots show animals within the panorama of their environments. But professionalism, patience and a measure of luck are still more important than technology. Sue Forbes spent days scanning rough seas in the Indian Ocean before she got her reward: a single frame enclosing both a bird (a red-footed booby) and a fish in flight.

Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 12 (AA Publishing, £25)
When he dreamed up his competition more than 12 years ago, Charlie Waite says in his foreword, he had “the possibly high-flown notion” that the winning photography and resulting books would become a record of their times. This year’s certainly reflects the weather. Captions refer to Storms Brian and Ophelia and the “Beast from the East”; subjects include kayakers breaking ice on Loch Ba, on Rannoch Moor; snow-covered Surrey farmland, photographed with a drone and looking like a circuit board; and the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, with the sea seemingly as white as the cliffs. The annual book, incidentally, must be one of the few things that hasn’t risen in price in 12 years.  A bargain.

The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim by Pete McBride (Rizzoli, £40)
Some 5.9 million people a year visit the Grand Canyon, but fewer than a dozen have walked it from end to end, a journey-without-trails of some 750 miles. The photographer Pete McBride did so with his friend Kevin Fedarko, a writer and former river guide in Grand Canyon National Park. With the park’s centenary approaching, they share what they found in the canyon’s remote ribs, and report on the continuing struggle between conservation and exploitation (they logged 363 helicopter flights in the space of eight hours). As McBride puts it, “If we cannot protect this space, the seventh natural wonder of the world, what can we protect?”

 

WORDS AND PICTURES

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones (Thames & Hudson, £29.95)
Oscar Wilde declared that “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.” Huw Lewis-Jones’s beautifully produced compendium takes in everything from Utopia, charted for Thomas More’s satire of 1516, to Westeros, a continent in that swords-and-sorcery series Game of Thrones. It shows how writers of the past created worlds that have inspired writers of the present, from Joanne Harris to Robert Macfarlane. It’s a reminder that a map is far more than a means of plotting a route. Like a book, it can transport you. It can work magic.

Charlie Waite on landscape, holy light and the lonely shed

At Waterloo station in London this week, opening the Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition, Charlie Waite declared that “the great goal of landscape photography is to have parity with the human experience” — for the photographer to capture not only geographical reality but at least a measure of what he or she felt, and in such a way that viewers will respond to it.

  It’s a demanding standard, but one to which Waite holds himself. He is one of the world’s leading landscape photographers; his images are held in private and corporate collections throughout the world and he has more than 30 books to his name. He’s a teacher as well as a practitioner, an impassioned advocate of photography and the benefits it can bring. In an interview with Deskbound Traveller, he talks about how he got started, the appeal of a lonely shed, and his lifelong pursuit of “a thing made holy by the light falling on it”.

Belgian journalist named travel photographer of the year

The winner of the British-based Travel Photographer of the Year competition, which attracts entries from professional and amateur photographers from around the world, was announced yesterday. He is Alain Schroeder, a Belgian photojournalist, who had entered a black-and-white portfolio of startling images of the rituals that follow a death in Toraja, Indonesia, where corpses are mummified and kept at home before a funeral; and a colour portfolio featuring wrestlers in Kushti, India. For a full list of the winning entries in all categories, see the TPOTY website. In the image below, two brothers, Micha from Jakarta and Misi from Makassar, embrace their father, Tumaang, and their mother, Rara. Picture © Alain Schroeder/TPOTY.COM.

Travel books of 2017

The following are some of my favourite travel books of the year, plus coffee-table books that would make good Christmas presents for travellers. One of the objectives of Deskbound Traveller (see the “About” page) is to broaden notions of what constitutes travel writing, so you will find here a collection of poetry plus a work (Among the Summer Snows) that others might label “nature writing”. The books are in no particular order — though the first two mentioned are especially timely. I’ve already reviewed many of them on this site and/or in the pages of The Daily Telegraph.
 
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Granta, £14.99) 
The border of the title is the zone where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey run into one another, which in Cold War days was “Europe’s southernmost Iron Curtain”. Twenty-five years after leaving Bulgaria, where she grew up under communism, Kassabova returns to see what has become of the villages and towns that were military strongholds, the rivers and forests that were off limits.
  Her account is about fences both on the ground and in the head; about the frontiers between the real and the imagined, between the scientifically proven and the remotely possible. There are happenings that might be from the pages of García Márquez and there’s a cast of characters that wouldn’t disgrace Dickens: border guards and people smugglers, refugees and ritual fire-walkers, spymasters who have retired and faith healers who are never out of work. Border is not just a topical book but an urgent one, for it spells out the human consequences of nationalism and totalitarianism; of a narrow focus on identity and ethnicity; of divisions and fences and walls designed to keep “them” from “us”.
 
The Rule of the Land by Garrett Carr (Faber & Faber, £13.99)
In the run-up to that referendum on EU membership, Carr, who is a mapmaker as well as a writer, walked and canoed the currently barely noticeable division between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It’s a border that, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, has lost watchtowers and bunkers and softened. Post Brexit, though, it will be not just an Irish frontier but a European one, and no one seems to know how that can be made to work. Carr suggests that Ireland is more divided than any of us suspected — not in two but in three: north, south and borderland. That third state, with its frontier-slipping people, springs to life in his pages.
 
Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey, £16.99)
All travelling, Nick Hunt argues, is an act of following something: coastline, trading route, border — or footprints, as he did for his debut, retracing the 1930s walk of Patrick Leigh Fermor from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. He decided to follow four named winds across Europe because their routes seemed to be the only ones that hadn’t been written-out. There are reasons for this, the obvious one being that it’s damned hard to describe the invisible. And what do you do if the wind doesn’t blow? Hunt, on his journey through landscape and legend, science and superstition, proves more than equal to the challenge. He dares, and he wins.
 
Among the Summer Snows by Christopher Nicholson (September Books, £14.99)
Christopher Nicholson admits that “Snow has no quantifiable value; if you hold a piece in your hands it soon tells you what it’s worth by turning to water and running away.” For him, though, its survival in the Highlands in summer, its rareness and improbability, has become a singular passion. He chronicles walks on which he seeks it out under cliffs and crags, in clefts and corries, and ponders its meaning. A glorious little book (just over 160 pages), beautifully produced by an independent publisher. 
 
Islander by Patrick Barkham (Granta,
£20)
Inspired by a DH Lawrence short story about a rich idealist seeking peace on successively smaller islands, Barkham travels through 11 outposts of the British Isles, moving from large to medium to tiny, in pursuit of “the essence of what it is to be an islander”. It’s an illuminating and instructive tour d’horizon, one that could be read with profit by MSPs currently considering a Bill designed to ensure a sustainable future for Scotland’s islands. Snappy, too: Scilly is memorably summed up as “a small archipelago mostly owned by the Duchy of Cornwall; struggling to make its way in the modern world, permanently obscured by forecasters’ bottoms on the weather map of Britain.”
 
The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life by André Naffis-Sahely (Penguin, £7.99)
Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, says that most of his work is voiced by a reclusive fellow who likes to look out the window: “I do quite a bit of travel, but I keep writing poems about the bird-feeder.” If André Naffis-Sahely is looking out a window, it’s likely to be on a train or a plane. He’s a travelling poet, a border-crossing bard. This impressive first collection, in which he takes us from his birthplace of Venice to Abu Dhabi, where he grew up, and then from London to North America, is both an admission of wanderlust and an acknowledgment of the insecurities it brings. 
 
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 27 (Natural History Museum, £25)
As Lewis Blackwell, chair of the judges, puts it, the pictures his team have selected, 100 from nearly 49,000 entries, constitute “a book of wonders…and sometimes horror”. The wonders  include a lobster larva, just half an inch across, perched like a jockey on a stinger jellyfish; two bear cubs, eyes on the salmon in their mother’s mouth, waiting for their share; and an image of the lower nine-tenths of an iceberg dwarfing a team of divers, made over three days and of 147 frames stitched together. Among the horrors are the winning image, of a black rhino — a species critically endangered — lying in a park in South Africa after being shot and having its horns hacked off.
 
Dronescapes: The New Aerial Photography from Dronestagram Edited by Ayperi Karabuda Ecer (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) 
Aerial photography is not exactly new: the photographer known as “Nadar” (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) went up in a balloon to document the rooflines of the French village of Petit-Bicêtre in 1858. But it has never been as  widespread or as cheap to practise as it is today, thanks to the development of the drone and the quadcopter. This book is a collection of the best images submitted to the website Dronestagram, set up in 2013 by another French pioneer, the entrepreneur Eric Dupin. Embracing locations from Antarctica to Vietnam, and subjects from wildlife to weddings, it is curated by the renowned picture editor Ayperi Karabuda Ecer, who doesn’t dodge the question of the threat posed by drones to privacy, safety and security.
 
Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 11 (AA Publishing, £25)
All winning and commended entries in the annual competition for the best photographs of the British landscape are included in this 224-page book, along with the photographers’ accounts of how their images were made. Among the customary reports of repeated visits, early-morning climbs and frozen fingers, there are references to “flying over the field” or “up to 100 metres”. A striking number of entries were taken using drones, revealing, for example, trees planted in such a way that they  form a giant “X” and fields that look like circuit boards.
 
Travel Photographer of the Year: Journey Nine (TPOTY, £9.95) 
One of the two portfolios that won Joel Santos, from Portugal, the title of Travel Photographer of the Year 2016 — depicting the landscapes of Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression — was the first TPOTY winner to be shot using a drone-mounted camera. The other, a series of portraits of a Ghanaian fisherman, was from ground — or, rather, water — level. Both are included here, with the best of the work submitted by professional and amateur photographers from more than 120 countries, ranging in subject from desert dunes in Egypt to a snow storm in New York; from a Cuban taxi driver to Sámi reindeer racers. 
 
Afghanistan by Steve McCurry (Taschen, £59.99) 
McCurry, whose portrait of the green-eyed refugee “Afghan Girl” is one of the best-known images of 20th-century photography, has been travelling regularly to Afghanistan since 1979, when he documented the fight of the mujahideen against a pro-Soviet government. This book gathers the best of his work over more than 40 years in a country at war and at uneasy peace: the boys toting Kalashnikovs and the girls juggling tennis balls; the bombed buildings and the roadside barbers. As William Dalrymple notes in an afterword, “it is a testament to McCurry’s longstanding love of Afghanistan, his solidarity with its people, and his commitment to recording their wondrous diversity. The book also stands as a peerless record of the Afghan landscape and its magnificent buildings.”
 
Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel (Dorling Kindersley, £25) 
This survey of mankind on the move, which starts with the ancient world and finishes with the age of flight, has already been overtaken by events. Its consideration of forced movements ends with the Second World War, but by the end of 2016 the number of people seeking safety across international borders as refugees had topped 22.5 million, the highest number seen since the UN High Commission for Refugees was founded in 1950. Otherwise, apart from a slightly tabloid tone (“Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca”), it’s a beautifully produced introduction, embracing everything from the trading voyages of the Minoans to the Hippie Trail, with digressions on topics from slave ships to souvenirs.
 
Chasing Light by Stefan Forster (te Neues, £29.95) 
At 18, Stefan Forster, who is Swiss, set off with his first camera, a tent, a sleeping bag and 13 days’ provisions to photograph the southern plateau of Iceland. In the 10 years or so since he has kayaked along the west coast of Greenland, camped in the forests of Alaska and Canada, and come close to being killed by a volcano in Indonesia.
  With this book, which includes landscape, wildlife and astounding images of the northern lights, he hopes to “demonstrate to all beholders the wonders of our planet, and to show what needs protecting.”
 
  As one of my aims on this site is to promote not just what’s topical but what’s timelessly good, let me remind you of one of my favourite books from 2013: Four Fields by Tim Dee (now in Vintage paperback); you can still read an extract on Deskbound Traveller
 
* A shorter version of this roundup appeared in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph 

McCurry on reading

onreadingThe photographer Steve McCurry, whose “Afghan Girl” is one of the best-known images of the past century, talked to Mariella Frostrup yesterday for Radio 4’s Open Book. (Frostrup, in her introduction, refers to the Afghan girl’s having “piercing blue eyes”; they are indeed piercing, but they are green.)

In 40 years as a photographer, McCurry has travelled the world. In his latest collection of pictures, On Reading (Phaidon), he photographs people —  in more than 30 countries — being transported by turning pages. As Paul Theroux puts it in his introduction, “there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”

The Open Book episode is now available on the BBC iPlayer. McCurry’s contribution starts 19 minutes, 55 seconds in, after Frostrup’s interview with the Israeli novelist David Grossman.

Travel Photographer of the Year interview

My interview for Telegraph Travel with Marsel van Oosten, the Travel Photographer of the Year, went online shortly after my earlier post.  You can read a fuller version here on Deskbound Traveller. The exhibition of the best entries to the competition opens on Friday (July 22).

Meet the Travel Photographer of the Year

marsel&meerkatThe Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition, featuring the best entries to the annual competition, opens this Friday at a new London venue in Greenwich. My piece on the overall winner, Marsel van Oosten, was in the print section of Telegraph Travel on Saturday but isn’t yet online.

You can read a fuller version of our interview — in which he talks about tigers in Africa, landscape in Louisiana and the difficulties of being a nature photographer in the age of GPS and social media — here on Deskbound Traveller.

Transported to Louisiana

TPOTY 2015Picture © Marsel van Oosten

Pictures of Louisiana (including the one above) are part of a portfolio with which Marsel van Oosten, a Dutch nature photographer, has just won the Travel Photographer of the Year competition. They put me in mind of the work of James Lee Burke, who in his novels about Detective Dave Robicheaux conjures a world in which you can smell the bayou and all but taste the po’boy sandwiches. They reminded me, too, of a programme broadcast earlier this year in the “Crossing Continents” slot on Radio 4 by James Fletcher. It’s about erosion of wetlands in southern Louisiana caused by the taming of the Mississippi and oil and gas exploration. A football field of coastal land is being washed away every hour.

On the scent of coffee

Coffee country seems to be flavour of the year among documentary photographers. A few months ago, Steve McCurry published From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail (Phaidon), for which he travelled from the foothills of the Andes to the slopes of Kilimanjaro, through eight countries and four continents, to record landscape, labour and life away from the fields.

At the end of this month, Sebastião Salgado, a native of one of Brazil’s biggest coffee-growing regions, will present his own take on the trade — in black and white, as usual — in The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee (Abrams).

palacesofmemoryJKTAnd today, Stuart Freedman — who’s a little younger than these veterans (he was born in London in 1967 and has been a photographer since 1991) — publishes The Palaces of Memory: Tales from the Indian Coffee House (Dewi Lewis), for which he visited more than 30 of a network of worker-owned cafes in cities throughout the subcontinent. The Coffee Houses, he says, “were an echo of the cafes — greasy spoons, really — that I grew up with in the Hackney of my childhood in east London. They spoke to me in a way of the faded hopes and dreams but also of the poetry and politics that were discussed. I always visit the one on College Street in Kolkata for the history and the one in Shimla for the impressive gathering of old men who will inevitably drag you to their table and invite your opinions on just about anything.” While he was still raising money for the project, he told the online journal Roads & Kingdoms what had inspired him.