Poles Apart:
Parallel Visions of the Arctic and Antarctic

Galen Rowell

University of California Press 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996 http://dannyreviews.com/
Poles Apart is a collection of photographs from the Arctic and Antarctic. Part one consists of 37 pairs of contrasted photos — one from each region — on facing pages. Part two contains 24 two page photo-essays on particular areas and topics. The photographs themselves are simply stunning. They are both visually impressive and well presented as a collection: Rowell's selection has a good balance between scenery (mountains, ice, tundra), wildlife (with some really spectacular "action" shots), people (scientists, native inhabitants of the Arctic, mountain climbers), and human habitations and equipment (historic huts, scientific research stations, pollution). His stated aim is to make the photographs accessible by balancing the unfamiliar with the familiar, and I think he has succeeded admirably. Some may feel cheated by the abundance of white-space — the photos occupy just half of each page — but in this case the white framing is both appropriate and effective (and it's always nice not to have to turn the page to find captions).

Part three contains short essays on each of the photographs in parts one and two, providing rather eclectic snippets of background information. While I found some of these really intriguing — an account of the controversy surrounding Peary's claim to have reached the North Pole, for example, or of the 1989 Bahia Paraiso wreck and the resulting oil spill — most were disappointing, with Rowell devoting more space to how he came to take the photograph than to its subject. Photographers and artists will appreciate these more, however, as he goes into some detail about the composition of and technical parameters for each shot. The only other failing of Poles Apart was highlighted for me by its overall success — the photos and commentary succeeded in arousing my interest in several topics to such an extent that I would have liked some pointers to other sources, if only a few references in the essays or a couple of pages of suggested readings at the end.

I'm sure there are people who wouldn't derive any pleasure from Poles Apart, but I have trouble visualising them. Rowell's work really should have near-universal appeal.

January 1996

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- details at University of California Press
Related reviews:
- books about the Arctic
- more photography
- books published by University of California Press
%T Poles Apart
%S Parallel Visions of the Arctic and Antarctic
%A Rowell, Galen
%I University of California Press
%D 1995
%O hardcover, large format, colour photos, index
%G ISBN 0520201744
%P 183pp