Reviews

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson by Todd Henson

The subtitle to A Walk in the Woods is Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Bill Bryson had lived overseas for nearly 20 years before returning to the United States. He soon learned the Appalachian Trail passed through his new hometown and that realization spurred what would become a multi-month series of hiking expeditions along the Appalachian Trail, rediscovering his home country in the process.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Walk in the Woods. Bryson relates his experiences on the trail, most often accompanied by his friend, Stephen Katz. Bryson had hiked a bit when overseas, but never anything of the scale or difficulty of the AT. This led to some very interesting experiences, many that seemed relatable even though I’ve never had those experiences myself. That’s one of the great pulls of this book, how very relatable it all is. Bryson has a way of writing that leaves you feeling as if you’ve been talking with a friend who just returned from this fantastic yet horrifying experience.

Bryson takes us on many excursions while relating his hiking experiences. He talks about the history of the AT, how it came to be and how it’s changed over the years. We learn about many of the locations along the trail, picking up bits of history that mesh beautifully with the overall story, enriching the tale. And we learn about some interesting people, those involved in the history of the trail, and others he meets while out hiking.

But some of the most enjoyable aspects of this book were the human interactions. When two friends who haven’t seen each in years are thrown back together, not in some city, but relying on one another for days at a time in the woods and mountains, their relationship is bound to change. It’s a fascinating and slow process of change. And it’s not just their relationship with one another that changes. Something like this can have life changing elements to it, changing how we look at the world and how we think about ourselves and our lives.

As an example, here is a quote from the beginning of the book, just after they started the hike:

The hardest part was coming to terms with the constant dispiriting discovery that there is always more hill.
— A Walk in the Woods, page 35

The beginning of any endeavor of this magnitude is always difficult. You realize just how much more effort it will take than you’d realized, even though you thought you were fully prepared.

And another quote towards the end of the book, after their hiking had finished:

It is a truly astounding sight when every tree in a forest becomes individual; where formerly had sprawled a seamless cloak of green there now stood a million bright colors.
— A Walk in the Woods, page 272

Experiences like this change you. You see the world in a different light, you notice things you might have previously overlooked, you gain a new appreciation for the world around you.

The beauty of a book such as A Walk in the Woods is how it can appeal both to those who’ve already had similar experiences and to those who haven’t. You can look on Bryson’s experiences with a fond memory of your own. Or you can vicariously experience them with him, imagining what it might be like if you were to try this yourself. And perhaps after reading this book, you just might give it a try, even if only through some local trails in your own town.

Thank you to my friend, who loaned me their copy of this book. I truly enjoyed it.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Highly recommended!


Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs by Todd Henson

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Limited edition of  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs , along with its slipcase.

Limited edition of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, along with its slipcase.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs is an absolutely stunning collection of photographs by a photographer who has created a number of images that I would certainly consider iconic. He is probably best known for his photograph of an Afghan Girl, created in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1984. I remember when this graced the cover of National Geographic. I, as so many others, was immediately taken in by her piercing green eyes, and the green and red contrasts between her eyes, her clothing, and the background.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.

Many of Steve McCurry’s most striking photographs are posed portraits of people. He does such a great job of conveying emotion in his portraits, of really bringing the people to life. Examples of this are his portrait of a Woman With Coral Earrings, created in Lhasa, Tibet in 2000, and of his portrait of a young Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, created in Haridwar, India in 1998.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Woman With Coral Earrings, Lhasa, Tibet, 2000. Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, 1998.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Woman With Coral Earrings, Lhasa, Tibet, 2000. Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, 1998.

But McCurry is also a master of photographing street scenes of people going about their daily lives. There are stories in his photographs, as seen in Boy in Mid-Flight, created in Johdpur, India in 2007. Where is this boy running to? What is around the corner? I love the composition and the color contrasts.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Boy in Mid-Flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Boy in Mid-Flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007.

In one photograph we see people walking down the flooded streets of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, India, while a street vendor tries to keep his goods dry. In another people walk down train tracks in Bangladesh. The folks on the train tracks all have similar colored clothing, but the person walking in the grass stands out for his more colorful shirt contrasted against the green grass and the blue storm clouds in the sky. We see school girls in Sri Lanka seemingly transfixed by their teacher. And we see dancers at Preach Khan in Angkor, Cambodia, wearing their colorful outfits of gold and red.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, 1983. Train Track, Bangladesh, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, 1983. Train Track, Bangladesh, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Schoolgirls, Kegalle, Sri Lanka, 1995. Dancers at Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Schoolgirls, Kegalle, Sri Lanka, 1995. Dancers at Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000.

As these sample images show, most of Steve McCurry’s images involve people, sometimes in portraits, sometimes busy going about their lives oblivious to the camera, other times in their environment but fully aware of the camera. In each photograph we get a short glimpse into one of the stories of their life, a brief but telling moment in time. Maybe it is a girl in her flooded front yard. Or a girl cooking in her home, with beams of light shining down from nearby windows. Or a man reading a newspaper while waiting for a train, shadows stretching across the ground. In each case we’re drawn into their world. It’s no wonder McCurry was such a frequent contributor to National Geographic.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . A Girl in Her Front Yard, Bojonegoro, Java, Indonesia, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. A Girl in Her Front Yard, Bojonegoro, Java, Indonesia, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Girl Cooking, Uttarakhand, India, 2009.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Girl Cooking, Uttarakhand, India, 2009.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India, 1983.

I was fortunate to purchase the limited edition version of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, when it first came out from Phaidon Press. It is far and away the largest photography book I own, measuring about 15 x 20 inches. As seen in the samples it is a portrait format book, being taller than it is wide. This works perfectly for the portraits, displaying a single photograph on a page. It does mean, though, that landscape photographs span two pages.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Stilt Fishermen, Weligama, Sri Lanka, 1995.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Stilt Fishermen, Weligama, Sri Lanka, 1995.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs was republished in 2012 in a smaller, more affordable format, measuring about 11 x 15 inches, which I still consider a large format book. It is 272 pages in length and contains 164 photographs McCurry created between 1980 and 2009. The photographs stand on their own without any text to distract from them. In the back of the book are several pages with a small bit of info about each photograph.

I highly recommend this book. I think it’s a fantastic collection of Steve McCurry’s photographs, possibly the best out there. It would be a great addition to the library of any Steve McCurry fan, and would also be a fantastic introduction to his work.


Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography by Todd Henson

Cover of  Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

Cover of Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

The Aperture Foundation created their Masters of Photography series of books to showcase the works of photographers who have “shaped the medium,” those “whose achievements have accorded them vital importance in the history of the art form.” The fifth book in the series is about Dorothea Lange.

Page 21: Child and Her Mother (1939)

Page 21: Child and Her Mother (1939)

Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) photographed throughout the Great Depression, working at one point for the California State Emergency Relief Administration. Most of her well known photographs were created while working for the Farm Security Administration between 1935 - 1942. Later she would photograph for Life magazine and teach at what became the San Francisco Art Institute.

Page 51: Church on the Great Plains (1938)

Page 51: Church on the Great Plains (1938)

Lange was known as a documentary photographer but disliked that label, even though she never found a better description. Edward Steichen once called her the greatest documentary photographer in the United States. She was not one to spend a lot of time processing images, but chose to portray the world as accurately and plainly as possible. She said she photographed “things as they are.”

“The important thing is not what’s photographed but how.” - Dorothea Lange

Page 39: Migrant Mother (1936)

Page 39: Migrant Mother (1936)

She managed to join that select group of photographers who have created images that became iconic in their popularity, power, and importance. Perhaps her most famous photograph is ‘Migrant Mother,’ created in 1936, in the latter years of the Great Depression. Even without any history or context it is a powerfully moving photograph. But placing it in context brings a piece of history to life, helping students better understand how that period of time affected many of the people of this country.

Page 75: Drought Farmers (1936)

Page 75: Drought Farmers (1936)

“At her most potent, Lange astounds with an ability to arouse deep feelings about our commonality with others.” - Christopher Cox

Page 79: Dairy Co-op Officials (1935)

Page 79: Dairy Co-op Officials (1935)

Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography is a small book. The copy I own measures about 8” x 8”. It is 96 pages in length, containing 42 of Lange’s photographs, an excellent essay by Christopher Cox that talks about her life and career, a list of details about each of the photographs, a small list of her exhibitions, a brief chronology, and a small selected bibliography. This is by no means a complete catalog of her work, but it is an excellent introduction to some of her best work and I’m very happy to own a copy.

Page 91: Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town (1938)

Page 91: Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town (1938)

The edition I own is from 1987. Aperture republished the book in 2014.


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