The Light Elsewhere – Encounters with the Elemental World£42.00, added Nov/2013
Reviewed by Stephen Venables
The coffee table picture book can degenerate all too easily into bland prettiness, but David Pickford’s debut delights and surprise with its breadth of vision. At a mere technical level it is superb, with beautiful printing doing justice to stunning images. Unlike so many large landscape format productions that squander paper, this book makes the most of its lavish space, particularly in the stunning opening sequence of full spreads. Like all the best photographers, Pickford finds the unique moment, or makes you see familiar landscapes afresh. He breathes new life into Madagascar’s now hackneyed Tsaranoro Massif with a wide close up of crimson and jade plants, orange granite and distant racing cloud shadows. HIs monochrome ‘ice circle’ on the familiar Llyn Idwal could be an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture. A routine ski down the Vallée Blanche is transformed by sudden storm clouds over the Aiguilles Diables. In Zanskar he opts for monochrome to dramatize the intensity of a bright foreground jagged ridge against the black silhouette of a distant, equally jagged, ridge. Moving from macro to micro, he devotes a double spread to the brilliant gold, crimson and purple leaf details of Yosemite and Westonbirt, eight thousand miles apart. On another memorable page, a single luminous red poppy personalizes the grey-green uniformity of a Norfolk monocultural wheat field.
When did you last see Norfolk feature in a climbers‘ book?! Or Westonbirt Aboretum for that matter? But it is that ability to find interest everywhere – that combination of curiosity and vision – that makes for great landscape photography. Likewise the final section – a poignant, at times melancholic, record of ancient barns, gates, mountain chapels, rusting cars and peeling villas, which Pickford entitles ‘Survivors’ explaining in his Foreword that these images are an antidote to what he calls neomania.
Note the sea cliff locations. This man loves the seaside and celebrates it with some gorgeous compositions of climbers poised above the marbled turquoise froth of the ocean. These and other climbing shots are the treasure at the heart of the book – fine studies of some of the finest climbers around, exploring some of the most beautiful rock around. Ever the artist, Pickford has Tim Emmett poised (or is that posed?) in luminous green shirt, to mirror Squamish’s fecund rain forest. Hazel Findlay dances balletically, dangling in turquoise top from a Turkish tufa. Kate Rutherfood balances elegantly across the luminous red sandstone of Indian Creek, framed between dark walls. Malin Holmberg tiptoes up the immaculate granite of Lofoten, on the first ascent of Lady of the Lake, accompanied by Pickford’s eloquent article that first appeared in last year’s Alpine Journal.
Yes, he does words too. Perhaps the most entertaining are the ones transcribed from the ‘Minsk Diaries’ – his record of a 15,000 kilometre solo ride through eight countries of Southeast Asia on a second-hand Russian motorbike, which required seventeen welding repairs before the journey was complete. What an adventure! And what acute observations, from the grim description of a headless corpse on Vietnam’s ‘Highway of Death’ to the workshop where he arrives to collect his bike, only to find ‘motorcycle components scattered like spilt beans on the street outside.’ There are nice touches of humour too, like his inscrutably British account of a romantic encounter en route, where, ‘I left Vientiane later than I planned, partly because of the need to get the bike in good order, and partly because of a girl from California.’ He does eventually leave, ‘since the bike would undoubtedly have got jealous if I stayed on.’ Fun, adventure, thoughtfulness, artistry ... just some of the ingredients of this beautifully produced celebration of the ‘elemental world’. The cover price is quite hefty, but, as with most things in life, you gets what you pays for.
A selction of photographs from the book:
View a digital preview of the book at issuu.com/thelightelsewhere. To order your copy today for the special price of £35 including UK P&P (£7 off RRP of £42) please contact Cordee on 01455 611 185 quoting the code TLE3500. Alternatively, you can order the book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and quoting the same code. The offer is open to overseas readers, who should contact Cordee first on +44 1455 611 185 or via email. Worldwide carriage charges will vary.
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