Photography Archive

Travel books of 2019

 

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, 2014 — from ‘Magnum Streetwise’ © DAVID ALAN HARVEY/MAGNUM PHOTOS

I’m pining a wee bit for the old days. Days when I was a raw reporter in his twenties in London and the only reading recommendations I felt I needed to note — apart from those from friends and colleagues — were in the books pages of The Observer and The Sunday Times. Days when I first started travelling for work, and found the best writing on wherever I happened to be on arrival there, in a bookshop. (I’m thinking, particularly, of Watermen by Randall S Peffer, a vivid and salty account of a year spent with the fishermen of the Chesapeake Bay on their graceful sailing boats, the skipjacks. Key “Watermen” and “Maryland” into a search engine, and Peffer’s book will pop up near the top of the results. I bought my copy on the spot, on the shore, in — if I remember rightly — the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St Michael’s.)

  These days, each time I go online I find a tweet or link that suggests I should be adding to an already tottering to-be-read pile. I can’t find time to read the pieces I’ve bookmarked in the virtual world, let alone the books they might take me to in the real one. (I’m mindful, though, that it was in cyberspace that I was directed to what turned out to be two of my favourite books of last year. One was Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. The other was Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift — which, as the title suggests, is concerned with the same territory as Peffer’s book, but in more dangerous times.)

  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, while I try to keep up with the best in new writing on travel and place, I don’t always manage it. This year there was a blizzard of promising books in the autumn. I have to give priority to books I’ve been commissioned and will be paid to review, even if they’re not always the ones I would choose to cover. Others go back on the TBR pile.

  In print at the weekend (and online tooThe Daily Telegraph published my choice of the best travel writing this year, plus picture books that I think would make good Christmas presents. I filed my roundup on November 12. By that stage, there were a lot of books I still hadn’t had a chance to read (and which I’ve since had time only to dip into). Among them were On The Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton) and Pravda Ha Ha by Rory MacLean (Bloomsbury).

  Among them, too, were new titles in translation by writers whose work I had hugely enjoyed in the past: Berezina: On Three Wheels from Moscow to Paris Chasing Napoleon’s Epic Fail by Sylvain Tesson, winner in 2014 of what was then the Dolman prize with Consolations of the ForestBlack Earth: A Journey Through Ukraine by Jens Mühling (Haus), whose A Journey into Russia was short-listed the following year for the rebranded Stanford Dolman prize; and So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between by Nicholas Bouvier (Eland).

  Then there were a few books I had to excuse myself from reviewing on the basis that I know the author. One was Sara Wheeler’s Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age (Jonathan Cape). I’m looking forward to that, especially after reading Julian Evans’s piece in The Daily Telegraph.

  Of the books I did manage to read, these are my favourites…

Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton, £20)
Over a series of books, Macfarlane has travelled from the peaks (Mountains of the Mind) to the depths, in a sustained and sensitive mapping of the relationship “between landscape and the human heart”. Underland sees him tunnelling into the world beneath our feet and what we’ve made of it, physically, with mines and tombs, and metaphorically, with myths and legends. It takes him from Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, via the catacombs of Paris, to a nuclear bunker in Finland. It’s a book that expands our notions of what constitutes landscape. It’s one full of wonders — in Kulusuk, Greenland, he celebrates “the wildest land I have ever seen” — but also of warnings of the harm we are doing in this overheated age of the Anthropocene.

The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden (Granta, £20)
When the anthropologists arrive, so the saying goes, the gods depart. There are places, though, where myth and magic held out; where phantom islands on the horizon and fairies under the earth endured for longer. Among them are the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, which Philip Marsden (who has a degree in anthropology) explores from the sea in this marvellous book. Like one of those doorways so popular in Irish myth, it’s a portal not just to other places but to other times. It’s a reminder, as he puts it, that “the imagination is the oddest of human faculties, and also perhaps the greatest”. Incidentally, The Summer Isles happens to be the best book I’ve read on a sailing trip since Jonathan Raban’s Coasting (1986).

The Last Whalers by Doug Bock Clark (John Murray, £20)
Clark, a 30-year-old American, lived for a year among the Lamalerans, a tribe of 1,500 on a backwater Indonesian island who have survived for half a millennium by hunting sperm whales with bamboo harpoons from hand-carved boats. In this wonderfully assured debut, he shows what modernisation looks like when it arrives with the speed of a tsunami, in the shape of motorboats, drift-netting, electricity and mobile phones. It’s a rich, novelistic account based on diligent reporting, in which the story of the tribe is told through the triumphs and trials of individuals — and the author, in the manner of the great Norman Lewis, renders himself a semi-invisible man.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie (Sort Of Books, £12.99)
Kathleen Jamie is a writer who enjoys teasing out unlikely links. In her previous essay collection, the prize-winning Sightlines, she explored the liver as a landscape through a microscope in a hospital pathology lab. In this one, she joins archaeologists at sites in Alaska and Orkney in their “daily wrestle with the earth”, and mines her own memories — of family and of youthful travels — to see what surfaces and what connects us to our past. It’s a deep and rewarding dig. As with archaeological sites, it’s also layered. Having read it first in proof, I opened it again when a finished copy arrived. It repays re-reading.

Elsewhere by Rosita Boland (Doubleday Ireland/Penguin, £14.99)
Rosita Boland is a feature writer for The Irish Times and was journalist of the year in Ireland for 2018. Before she was a reporter, she was a wanderer, travelling the world between short-term jobs, and she still takes unpaid leave to respond to what the Germans call fernweh, an ache for distant places, which has taken her to Australia and Antarctica, Peru and Pakistan. She has an ache, too, to have a child, which has never been answered. In Elsewhere, she writes beautifully and movingly of three decades on the road, and the consolations she has found there.

Horizon by Barry Lopez (Bodley Head, £25)
“Travel/Natural History,” ventures the publisher’s classification. Well, those are part of it. Horizon encompasses both the conquistadors’ lust for gold and the mining of Big Data; its author’s searches on the ice shelf for meteorites and in the desert for hominid fossils. It’s an angry book about the “throttled Earth” and what we Earthlings have done to it (though there’s no acknowledgement of Lopez’s own carbon footprint). It’s life-affirming, too, in its depictions of the wonders that remain. It runs to 512 pages plus 60 of notes and index, which is a lot for our distractible times, but you’ll find it a lot smarter than your phone.

A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma by David Eimer (Bloomsbury, £20)
In the brochures, Burma (Myanmar) is a country of “temple-strewn landscapes” and “enduring tribal traditions”. But it is also one with more than 30 ethnic armies and militias, whose battles with the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, are, as Eimer puts it, “the longest-running civil wars in modern history”. He listens to people of as many factions as he can in a disunited nation, explaining wonderfully well why Burma today is both compelling and combustible. If George Orwell, who served as a police officer in Burma in the 1920s, could read it, he would surely be impressed by this choral-voiced account of a country where so many, for so long, have been silenced.

Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh (Bloomsbury, £20)
In the age of high-speed rail, with a wooomph! on the tracks and a blur through the windows, you might think there’s little to savour and less to say about long-distance train travel. You’d be wrong: as Monisha Rajesh triumphantly demonstrates, there’s life yet in both the trip and the telling. One of her best passages is on Hiroshima, a few of whose residents survived the immediate after-effects of the atomic bomb of 1945 by fleeing on trains. She finds trains life-enhancing as well as life-saving. In Thailand, on swapping food with a Dutch family, she’s told: “We have a word… gezellig, which means that there are no boundaries and that everyone is sharing and getting along… like we are a train family.” Gezellig resounds through Rajesh’s pages.

 

PICTURE BOOKS

Wild asses in a wild land: a group of kiangs stride out after a snowfall in search of grass in the Kumukuli Desert on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau — from ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ © SHANGZHEN FAN

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 29 (Natural History Museum, £25)
The Travel Photographer of the Year and Landscape Photographer of the Year competitions are both taking a break from publishing a book in 2019, but another dependable British-based showcase is open as usual. The 100 pictures between the covers, chosen from 48,130 entries from a record-breaking 100 countries, offer both the richness of the natural world and reminders (poisoned lions, logged forests) of its fragility. Rosamund Kidman Cox, chair of the judges, notes significant increases this year in entries from Tajikistan, Mongolia and China and in outstanding pictures of animal behaviour. The moment captured by the winner, Yongqing Bau, a Tibetan from the Chinese province of Qinghai, is as arresting for the viewer as it was for one of the subjects: a marmot realising that there’s no escape from a fox.

Water: A Journey Through The Element by Rudi Sebastian (te Neues, £29.95)
For the past few years the German photographer Rudi Sebastian has been travelling the world intent on capturing water in all its forms: solid, liquid and gas. It’s a journey that has taken him from Costa Rica to China; from seasonal lakes between sand dunes in Brazil — the Lençois Maranhenses — to the rapidly melting Arctic home of the polar bear; from the Bay of Cadiz, where gentle, non-intrusive cultivation has helped to increase biodiversity, to Xiapu, in China, where farming of fish and seafood is on an industrial scale. There’s a terrible beauty to his pictures of the last, and, elsewhere, images that recall the work of Monet and Turner. An artist very much in his element.

Magnum Streetwise edited by Stephen McLaren (Thames & Hudson, £28)
Street photography — “candid photography in the public realm”, as McLaren defines it in this glorious celebration — has been part of the repertoire of Magnum since its beginnings in 1947. Indeed, one of the agency’s founders, Henri Cartier-Bresson, had pioneered it from 1930, exploiting the possibilities offered by the newly available Leica and a standard lens on trips around Europe and Mexico. “Street” can embrace market and museum, beach as well as bus. Four cities have exerted a particular pull: Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. For each, McLaren looks into themes and favourite hunting grounds, and sees how the approach of photographers has changed as the city has evolved.

Portrait of Humanity (Hoxton Mini Press, £22.95)
What do two centenarians, cuddling on a plump sofa in their Los Angeles apartment, share with a a newborn refugee, 30 seconds old, howling in its mother’s arms in a refugee camp in Tanzania? That’s the question this book, with 200 images from more than 65 countries, asks you to ponder. It’s a follow-up to Portrait of Britain, and a collaboration between 1854 Media — publisher of The British Journal of Photography — and the picture agency Magnum. As Lucy Davies of The Telegraph arts desk puts it in her introduction, it’s “a crowd-sourcing of the climate, a map of global fears and wants, and as much a reflection of the things we have in common as the things that make us different”.

Northwest by Alex Nail (£36 plus p&p, via alexnail.com)
The only bearable way to be on top of a peak for a 4.30am sunrise is to sleep on the mountain,” says Alex Nail. That’s how most of the images in his book were made. There’s no trace of the effort that went into them; of his endurance of blizzards in winter and midges in summer. But his love of the mountains and lochans of the Northwest Highlands is evident on every page. His approach might be considered old-fashioned, but that doesn’t bother him. His aim is to recreate, as far as he can, what he saw in front of him, rather than to reinterpret it: “photography can be more than art; reality is powerful. Photography can transport the viewer.” His pictures certainly do.

Through My Eyes: Journey of a Wildlife Veterinarian by Dr Michael D Kock (IWVS Africa, £75 plus p&p via through-my-eyes.co.za)
Michael Kock describes himself as “a large-landscape, no-fences, wilderness-focused wildlife veterinarian”. Through My Eyes is a remarkable photographic record of a working life that has taken him, over 40-plus years, to four continents and 13 African countries, including his native South Africa. There are as many images of people as of wilderness and wildlife, for his work goes far beyond darting an elephant, roping a giraffe or relocating a hippo. And the first step in conserving a wild landscape, he argues, is to give the humans who share it an interest in being good stewards. His book, running to 600 pages and 1,400 photographs, would have benefited from an edit, but it’s still a compelling account of a singular day job.

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.