This Week In Photography Books: Brad Wilson

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was riding in the passenger seat of a Volvo SUV. Headed North. My father was driving; my young son in the back seat.

We were going to Red River to ride some go-karts. A classic summertime ritual. The mountains were to the East, and out the driver side, we saw the great American desert, rolling all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The western sky was dark and ominous, as there were massive rainstorms approaching us faster than an unarmed man can raise his hands at the sight of a loaded gun. It had been raining for weeks, so the deluge was clearly imminent.

Which made our go-karting endeavor look a tad futile.

My son asked whether we would make it in time. My father replied that he was an optimist, so we’d plow forward. My son, clever, but not omniscient, asked what an optimist was.

My Dad explained an optimist was a person who looked on the bright side, and expected things to work out well. A pessimist, he countered, tended to fear the worst, and assume it would come to pass.

“Which are you, Daddy,” the boy asked me?

“I’m neither, I said. I’m the third thing. A realist. I think sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t.”

“OK. You’re a realist. So will we get to ride the go karts,” he asked?

“That storm is coming really fast. If we get a ride in, I’d say we were lucky. I doubt we’ll get there before the track is too wet to be safe.”

Not that my predictive qualities are always spot on, but that day, it was not to be. The heavens opened, and we had to settle for raiding the candy store, and then getting back in the Swedish Tank to go home.

C’est la vie.

It’s easy, these days, to succumb to the belief that the world is coming to an end. The militarized mess in the St. Louis suburbs. Another war in the Holy Land. ISIS gobbling up territory in Mesopotamia. Planes shot out of the sky by a newly voracious and expanding Russia. (Forgive me, I meant Putin’s proxies in Eastern Ukraine.)

And then there are the stories about elephants being massacred for their ivory. Tigers killed for fake Chinese medicine. Or Rhinos slaughtered for horn to make some old guy’s penis hard.

Onward we march towards oblivion, it seems.

What sayeth the realist? Well, it is hard to be optimistic these days. But what choice do we have? If you’ve bred children, it’s far too sad to assume the world will die around them. Better to hope we’ll figure it out, but I’m not so sure.

Just in case, it might be wise to record nature’s bounty while it’s here. To embed likeness in paper, and safe keep it for future generations. (Sample conversation in 2114, “Daddy, what’s an elephant look like? Why did they go extinct?”)

Fortunately, the Santa Fe-based photographer Brad Wilson had done it for us. Even better, for posterity, he used a super-badass-high-end-digital camera, so the details are there in their hyper-real glory. (Eyelashes and all.)

I know this, because I went to photo-eye this week to pick up a new stack of books, as promised. And there the photos were on the wall, staring me down like an angry drunk mad-dogging you outside the movie theater at 9:45pm on a Friday night. (Speaking of Fridays, the exhibition opens tonight, if you happen to be in town.)

The prints are big, black and gorgeous. (Insert random inappropriate joke here.) If you have a chance to go see them, I’d highly recommend it. If not, of course, we always have the book, “Wild Life,” recently published by Prestel.

According to a promotional video they showed me at the store, the artist hired animal trainers to bring the creatures to a studio in LA. And the book says other pictures were shot at a raptor sanctuary in EspaƱola, a zoo in Albuquerque, and, of course, a location in St Louis, Missouri. (Wouldn’t be one of my reviews if the snake didn’t eat its tail.)

The pictures manage to be beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The chimps are so clearly sentient. The big cats so fierce. The eagles so mesmerizing. In fairness, the owl photos are trapped in full bleed in the book, so their impact is muted, compared to the prints.

But this book oozes “future-historical-importance.” I think I brought up some of these concepts when I reviewed SebastiĆ£o Salgado’s “Genesis” a while back. I prefer this book, though.

That one seemed a tad emotionally manipulative. This feels more clean. More objective, if I might use a taboo word, for once. He threw up a black backdrop, brought in some rapidly disappearing animals, got really close with a great camera, and made the pictures.

Here. Look.

For now, the photographs are representations of living creatures. If we don’t change course, however, they will be all we have left. So says the realist.

Bottom Line: Fantastic record of the animal kingdom, while we have it

To Purchase “Wild Life” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

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