The final book review I am publishing for 2015 (I will be travelling again soon until the end of the year) is the new release from contemporary wildlife photographer – Vincent Munier. If you are not familiar with Vincent’s photography then you more than 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 latest tome ‘Arctique’ is going to be the subject of this review. I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Arctique since it was announced a couple of months ago. I already own several of Vincent Munier’s books including La Nuit du Cerf (reviewed here on this site) as well as his two volume ‘Solitudes‘ and also own several of his other smaller publications. I regret, I do not own his out of print Kamchatka book (if anyone has a copy they wish to part with please let me know). I am also soon to count one of his fine art prints amongst my collection. The new release, Arctique is a collection of wildlife (and landscape) photographs from the Arctic regions of the globe. It includes some previously published work as well as new photographs. From Vincent’s website:
“Vincent Munier showcases his best pictures from the Arctic. He brought them from different polar expeditions lead in winter during the past 6 years, generally alone and with full autonomy.
In the cold, pulling heavy sleds, he walked and skied across hundreds of miles on the territories of the white wolves: the « ghosts of the tundra », as the Inuit have named them.
From Scandinavia to the northenmost islands of Nunavut (Canada), we are invited to discover a breathtakingly beautiful, fascinating wild world: polar bears and foxes, caribous, muskoxen, Arctic hares, snowy owls… and even a magical encounter, when a pack of nine wolves surrounded the photographer!
Munier’s unique pictures carry us away on a long and adventurous journey across the open spaces of the far North; their gentle, white atmosphere softens the real harshness of this gigantic desert, at the top of the world. And for the first time, the photographer shares with us his travel journal and personal impressions of the Arctic, one the most remote and fragile places on the planet.”
If you are not familiar with the style of Vincent’s wildlife imagery Arctique might seem somewhat alternative to you on first leafing through the pages. You will not find cliché images, or documentary style photography in-between the covers of Arctique. What you will find instead is highly evocative imagery that is rich in emotion and drama and that is presented in a very soft and ethereal manner. This is imagery that whispers in soft transcendent tones and does not feel the need to shout and wave its arms and legs about.
What I particularly enjoy is what is left to to the imagination in these photographs. Photography is very much a subtractive process. 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 Arctique (and in his previous release La Nuit du Cerf). This has become Vincent’s trademark style and Arctique contains numerous wonderful examples in its many pages. The photographs provide us a glimpse into a mystical frozen Arctic world. They tell us stories about the lives of these incredible animals; about their ability to adapt and survive and the interactions between them. But these stories are not presented chapter and verse. Instead we are provided with just the right number of ingredients for our mind to take us on a journey and let our imagination complete the stories. This engages the viewer on a far superior level to a collection of ‘pretty pictures’. Everything is there to set the stage for a great photograph: Low mist, fog, falling snow, 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 the soft muted pallet that paints the subject in such a mysterious shroud. We are often left with a sense of the environment in which the animal lives – as if we are provided a partly fogged window with which to look into this remote world. This is artful and soulful wildlife photography executed by a master craftsman. It is wildlife photography at its absolute best.
Presentation – We all know that first impressions count. From the get-go the presentation of Arctique is absolutely superb. From the moment I opened the packaging and removed the shrink-wrap, to the moment I turned the final page and closed the book I was engaged by the complete package. The presentation is extraordinary, and rates amongst the very best I have seen in photographic publications. It is rare for me to be left wanting more at the end of a book, but that is exactly how I felt when I got to the end of Arctique. I had devoured the imagery, enjoyed sublime presentation and was still hungry for more. It was not long after that first viewing that I found myself going back for second and third helpings.
Hardbound on wonderfully heavy art paper (I would guess close to 200gsm paper) Artique is a sizeable publication; consisting of 264 pages (plus an additional 48 pages of travel journal). The choice of a matt Arctic white colour for the cover is complimentary to the photographs and the entire book is a very well constructed package that exudes quality. I really enjoyed the small touches such as the thoughtful matching slipcase (also presented on lovely card stock) and the clever addition of the behind the scenes (travel journal) softcover book included inside.
The travel journal offers a wonderful insight into the making of the photographs in Arctique that really added great depth to the overall experience for me. Having spent many months photographing in the Arctic regions myself I can already appreciate what it took to produce these works. My feeling, is the behind the scenes additions will provide a much deeper level of appreciation for this body of work for those who have not had the good fortunate to visit the Arctic. I particularly enjoyed the small diary excerpts (in French) included therein. The addition of the travel journal will I think for many complete the experience and is a worthy addition to Artique that takes the entire package into that rare air of excellence.
I was very pleased to see a complete lack of full bleed photographs in Artique. All of the photographs are framed by the white of the paper and this works exceptionally well to contain the imagery from page to page. Each photograph is treated as an individual art piece – and rightfully so. I particularly enjoyed the layout of this book and the use of small photographs on some of the pages to draw me in and create a greater level of intimacy. 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 polar world. This technique is highly effective at viewer engagement and more photographers would do well to take notice. I also appreciated the occasional use of an empty page on the left hand side that allows the eyes and 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. Presenting a 264 page book of photographs that continually engages the viewer is extraordinarily difficult and most books of this size leave me tired well before I get to the last pages. The simple reality is that there are only so many photographs my brain can absorb in a single sitting before the images start to blend together. Artique transcended this limitation for me and left me wanting more. That is an extraodinary accomplishment.
Print Quality – In many ways reviewing the print quality of Arctique had me reflecting back to my earlier review of Vincent Muniers La Nuit du Cerf. The difference being, the palette has been reversed. La Nuit du Cerf contained photographs that were very dark in nature (many of them shot at night) where as Arctique has a much whiter and brighter pallet that is a strong example of the use of subtle shades of white and delicate tonal transitions. There are many examples of white on white in Artique and the eye takes great pleasure in the subtle tonal shifts.
It is had to make a direct comparison to my Gold standard for book printing – the 2014 APPA Gold Award Book as the two printing processes employed in these two very different reproductions are (pardon the pun) poles apart. Where as the 2014 APPA Gold book has an incredible D-Max with deep, rich velvety blacks, superb color reproduction and pin sharp printing; Arctique employs a different approach that perhaps more appropriately matches this style of photography. My feeling is that the print quality in Artique is best judged in the subtle tonalities of snow and ice found in many of the images and not in direct comparison with other publications.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. In this regard, the print quality in Arctique is about as good as offset can achieve with current technology on this type of soft art paper and in that respect it is excellent. The choice of matt art paper is highly complimentary to the photographs and the muted palette of soft Arctic whites is well reproduced throughout this book.
I fear those photographers who eschew technical perfection above all else may well fail to grasp the true beauty of the printed images in Arctique. With the limited dynamic range of the soft art paper and the very limited color palette of many of the images there is an over arching soft and ethereal presence to the photographs that is often monochromatic in nature. These are photographs that do not leap of the page with vibrancy. Rather, they softly whisper sweet tones that will draw you into this mystical white world.
Conclusion – Arctique epitomises just about everything I love and enjoy about wildlife photography in a book. It is a superb collection of highly evocative photographs that is an absolute pleasure to consume. Arctique can be purchased online for 65 Euro plus shipping in standard edition (as reviewed here) or, for 500 Euro as a limited edition (100 copies only) in a presentation box with a signed fine art print.
I highly recommend you consider adding Artique to your collection of photography books. If you are not yet collecting books on Nature photography then this would make a superb start and provide you many hours of enjoyment (as well as providing a valuable reference). If you are already a collector of fine photographic publications then Arctique is a must have addition to your library. Highly recommended.
Overall Review –***** Must Own. No photography library is complete without this book.