Photography book reviews are something I have been meaning to sink my teeth into for the last few years – I just frankly haven’t had the time to really make a start. Actually, that isn’t quite true, I did an informal review of my good friend Daniel Bergmann’s latest book Iceland Landscapes (now sold out) when it was released back in 2011 and I look forward to reviewing his next book when it is released hopefully later this year.
Like turning the wheel on a motor vehicle, it is much easier to do so once you have a little forward momentum and this new book review is going to be my momentum to kick start a series of book reviews over the coming months. Before I begin however, I want to get something off my chest. In my view, far too few photographers these days collect, read, study and treasure photographic books. Even fewer collect photographic prints, but thats a story (ok, a rant) for another post. In the era of the social media jpeg the quality photographic book is unfortunately slipping by the wayside. And that is a real shame as there is whole generation of photographers out there missing out on a wonderful learning tool.
Reading and studying photographic books can be one of the best ways to actually improve your own photography. And I am not necessarily talking about books on photographic technique. Studying the work of photographers you admire and respect will give you wonderful insight into your own image making and I promise it will improve your photography. As photographers, it is important that we spend time looking at the work of those in our profession who we admire and respect. Sitting down with a photographic book is a fantastic way to do this and something I try and do as often as I can. This is a habit I picked up when I was studying photography in my late teens. My teachers made a point of recommending a great many photographic books over the course of my studies so as to expose me to as much quality photography as I could consume (they also recommended attending galleries and shows on a frequent basis). I believe it has stood me in good stead in my own image making and if you are not currently reading and collecting photography books I recommend you make a start.
I plan to review quite a few books over the course of the coming months and years and am going to give them a rating based on my overall impressions of the photographic content, the presentation and finally the print quality. I am going to sum up each book with a rating out of five stars.
- * Give it a miss. There are better books on this subject you should consider adding to your library
- ** Consider buying this book if the subject matter appeals to you.
- *** Nice to own. A quality publication that should have a home in any serious photography library.
- **** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.
- ***** Must own. No photography library is complete without this book
I want to kick off my first book review for 2015 with a book from one of my favourite contemporary wildlife photographers – Vincent Munier. If you are not familiar with Vincent’s photography then you owe it to yourself to take some time out of your day and get to know his work. Vincent is a master of wildlife photography and his most recent book La Nuit du Cerf or Night of the Deer is going to be the subject of this review.
La Nuit du Cerf (and I will call it by its French name from here on) is a collection of photographs of wild deer from the darkest reaches of the French forests photographed at night. But it is much more than just a collection of wonderfully evocative wildlife photographs. The book is also accompanied by an audio CD that includes sounds of the deer and forest recorded by Marc Namblard during the time Vincent spent making the photographs. This is an unusual addition to a photography book but is one that in my opinion greatly enhances the experience of the book. The audio tracks are actually also available as a free download if you purchase the book along with a short (but very well filmed) video of some of the making of the photographs. The video is available on You Tube.
In the deep of the autumnal night, the deer shows up.
Dark shadows and pale moonlight, unreal atmospheres and surprising fuzziness bring to light the admired silhouette of the animal. Like in mysterious tales, the subtle and original pictures by French photographer Vincent Munier transport us into the heart of the deepest forest.
His photographs are accompanied by a CD of nature sounds, collected by Marc Namblard to offer the reader the thrill of a night approach and the power and energy of the rut season.
French writer and ecologist Yves Paccalet is the author of the prelude.
If you are not familiar with the style of Vincent’s wildlife imagery this book might seem like quite a shock to you on first reading. You will not find perfectly sharp photographs, highly saturated colours, super clean backgrounds or any of those traits that seem to dominate the plethora of banal wildlife imagery on the web today. What you will find instead is highly evocative imagery that is rich in emotion, feeling and drama. The photographs are powerful because they pose questions and leave us wanting more. They provide us a glimpse into the deepest recesses of the forest at night where wild deer still play and roam. The photographs are successful because of what Vincent has chosen to exclude, rather than what he has included. We are left with a sense of the deer in the forest at night, like ghosts and fleeting spirits we never really get a good look at them and that is real magic to the photographs in this book. There is mystery and drama here that tells a story and that story is not just about the deer, but it is about the environment in which these animals exist – the dark forest, the cold morning mist and the low fog are all working together to tell the story. It is a mystical world, hidden from the eye of the average person that is so well conveyed in the photographs in this book.
Photography is very much a subtractive process in my view. When framing an image in the viewfinder what we choose to exclude is often more important than what we include and it is this skill that Vincent employs so artfully in La Nuit du Cerf. What I particularly enjoy is what is left to to the imagination in these photographs. Everything is there to set the stage for a great photograph. Low mist, fog, dramatic cloud and light, are all in abundance, but it is the choice of framing and shutter speed that bring the image to life and paint the subject in such a mysterious shroud. This is artful and soulful wildlife photography executed by a master craftsman.
Many of the photographs are monochromatic in nature (although they are still clearly colour photographs) but it is important to note that although they are desaturated I am not left feeling as though there has been a deliberate attempt to win me over with post production. What we are looking at here is the natural muted palette of nature expertly crafted by a master.
Presentation – In terms of presentation La Nuit du Cerf leaves very little wanting. Hardbound on wonderfully heavy paper the presentation is excellent. The muted choice of colour for the cover is complimentary to the photographs and the entire book feels like a carefully considered package.
Personally, I dislike full bleed images in photography books as I prefer a white border around the images to help frame them and keep my eye from running off the page. I know some photographers like to include a few full bleed images to help break up a book but I personally feel this detracts from the photographs and works against the flow of a book. I was very pleased to see no full bleed photographs in this book. All of the photographs are framed by the white of the paper and this works well to contain the imagery from page to page. I particularly enjoyed the layout of this book and the use of small photographs on some of the pages to create a more intimate feeling. In an era where big is often seen as better it is nice to see the use of small images employed to help draw the viewer into this mystical world. I also appreciated the regular use of an empty page on the left hand side that allows the mind to take a slight pause and focus on just one photograph on the right hand side of the page. This is clever design that lets the eye really take in and enjoy each photograph without feeling overwhelmed.
The inside cover of the book contains a small envelope with the additional Compact Disc. As noted above, the audio tracks are also provided as downloadable FLAC lossless files when you purchase the book online.
Print Quality – It is hard to review the print quality in La Nuit du Cerf as many of the photographs are very dark in nature and on first impression you could be forgiven for feeling there should be more detail in some of the shadows. However, it is the use of solid blacks that really enhance many of the photographs and help convey their feeling so successfully. My feeling is that the print quality is best judged in the subtle tonalities of fog and mist in many of the images; the feeling and drama of which is well conveyed.
I feel somewhat spoiled in my experience with print quality. As a photographer who regularly makes and sells fine art prints I have a pretty good grasp of just how good modern day fine art inkjet prints can be. To date I have not yet seen an offset printing process that can match that of a finely crafted inkjet print. My feeling is that the print quality in La Nuit du Cerf is about as good as offset can achieve with current technology and in that respect it is very good.
Conclusion – Quite honestly, this book epitomises just about everything I love and enjoy about wildlife photography. Available in two versions via Kobalann Online Store, La Nuit du Cerf can be purchased for 50 Euro plus shipping in standard edition (as review here) or for 800 Euro as a limited edition (30 copies only) in a presentation box with a fine art print.
I highly recommend you consider adding La Nuit du Cerf to your collection of photography books. If you are not yet collecting books on Nature photography then this would make an excellent start and provide you many hours of enjoyment. Highly recommended.
Overall Review – **** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.