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.
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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