Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: "Bird"

Bird, a collection of Andrew Zuckerman's striking photographs (Chronicle Books, 2009) is a pure delight. The 200 photographs (of 75 different species, including the very rare Spix's macaw) appear simple (just the bird, against a pure white background), but when examined closely reveal color, texture and life that very few photographs I've ever seen can do.

The introduction to the photos, by designer Massimo Vignelli, contrasts Zuckerman's approach with Audubon's, noting the painter's "meticulous consideration" of the birds' colors, the "expression in their eyes," and their natural habitat. Zuckerman, he writes, "approaches birds with a contemporary, minimalist attitude: no more narrative context, no more psychological interpretations, no more candid shots in the wilderness." Just light.

While some of the photographs feature entire birds, many highlight just a small portion of the subject: a beak, an eye, a foot, a feathered breast. The flight images are spectacular, as are the severe facial close-ups (the very tight shot of a marabou stork's head may be enough to put you off dessert tonight). Zuckerman captures the feathery texture of a snowy owl's wing, the reptilian scaliness of a red-legged seriema's clawed foot, the iridescent blue of an American crow.

The images are complemented nicely by an explanatory epilogue by Alex Vlack, which explains a little bit of Zuckerman's technique and about the methods used to 'acquire' the images (they were not shot in the wild, after all). This explains much of the book's bias - there are few passerines, and many birds of prey/large land birds. No matter: the photos are beautiful. Thankfully there's also a key at the end to tell you what they are. That helps.

One of the most beautiful coffee-table books I've seen in a long time.

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