Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Expeditions into Naboland

Reinhard Behrens
Twenty-five Years of Expeditions into Naboland
Roger Billcliffe Fine Art Ltd, Scotland: 2000
Illustrated in colour, 40 pages
This catalogue predates the public awareness of Behrens’ work following its appearance on the cover of Peter Davidson’s influential book The Idea of North. A good general introduction to Behrens’ early work, it reveals ‘the lost (or parallel) continent of Naboland’ [Billcliffe], an imagined landscape reminiscent of the arctic. Behrens has a background in archaeology; his works frequently combine glacial landscapes with displays of objects rescued from the ice, laid out like museum exhibits, both divorced from their surroundings and, through their shape and decrepitude indelibly linked to them. The key object in the series, a rusted toy submarine, is a real artefact dredged from a German estuary by the artist. Behrens is based in Scotland and the wild landscapes of the Cairngorms clearly influence his work. More recently, the Himalayas (‘Nabo-La’) and the Alps have been added to the toy submarine’s itinerary. This book contains contributions by art critics and creative writers such as John Glenday, Murdo MacDonald and Sally Evans, as well as Behrens himself.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Wandering Through Winter

Edwin Way Teale
Wandering Through Winter: An adventurous 20,000 mile journey through the North American winter
Illustrated with 49 black and white photographs by the author
370 pages
Dodd, Mead & Company, New York (1965)
This coast-to-coast journey, which took the author and his travelling companion Nellie from southern California to north of Caribou, Maine during the winter of 1961–2, is the predictable last instalment of a series that documents journeys in the USA during each of the four seasons. This is not nature writing elevated to the pitch of Lopez or Thoreau but rather an easy-going travelogue, Sunday-supplement style. (The author might have benefited from Thoreau’s injunction to look closely at one place rather than swiftly at many.) Nevertheless, Wandering Through Winter is included here on the strength of its representation of ice conditions in parts of North America that other writers may have overlooked in their headlong rush for the arctic regions. While not all the areas through which Teale travels experience freezing temperatures in winter, he has plentiful opportunities to observe ice, including a historic ice jam at the Alton Dam of the Mississippi, an ice storm in Indiana, and – when contemporary ice is lacking – the bones of ‘Ice Age elephants’ in Big Bone Lick. Illustrations include cataracts of ice in the Adirondacks and the snowshoe maker Charles Holway at work in Maine.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Arctic Regions

The Arctic Regions: Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition to Greenland, with a descriptive narrative by the artist
William Bradford
Edited by Michael Lapides with an introduction by Russell A Potter.
David R. Godine, Boston (in association with New Bedford Whaling Museum): 2013
Originally published in 1873 by Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle, Fleet St, London.
170 pages
A landmark in the annals of American photography and polar adventure, The Arctic Regions was first published for subscribers in 1873. No more than 300 copies of the leather-bound elephant folio (designed to emulate the dramatic scale of the views it contained) are known to have been printed. “This volume,” Bradford explains, “is the result of an expedition to the Arctic Regions, made solely for the purposes of art, in the summer of 1869.” Bradford travelled with the eminent Arctic explorer and author Dr Isaac Israel Hayes, and two photographers from Boston, John L. Dunmore and George P. Critcherson. These men were the first photographers to document such a northerly voyage, as they travelled from Newfoundland to Cape Farewell, and on up the west coast of Greenland with stops at (amongst other places) Sermitsialik Glacier, Upernavik and Melville Bay. 
This elegant new edition (on a slightly more modest scale) includes an introduction by Russell Potter which proposes Bradford as a pioneer in presenting visual images of the Arctic to the general public. Potter notes that Bradford’s photographs were shown in London a decade after the distinguished painter Frederic Edwin Church exhibited his Iceberg in 1863. The Art-Journal remarked that these photographs, by comparison, were “the only works which profess incomparable truth in the representation of the Northern regions.” (Whether this faith was justified is open to question.) Potter notes the “striking tonal range and crisp focus” of these early images, reproduced from glass collodion negative plates, and considers some of the difficulties the photographers would have experienced in pursuing this process on board ship. The accompanying text by Bradford is a typical travelogue which nonetheless shows the influence of Hayes’ deep interest in the formation of glaciers, icebergs and the movement of ice. 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Iceland Breakthrough

Iceland Breakthrough
Paul Vander-Molen with Jack Vander-Molen
The Oxford Illustrated Press in Association with Channel Four Television Company: 1985
Illustrated with many photographs in full colour, and black-and-white maps.
A spirited account of a 12-man expedition along the Icelandic river Jökulsá á Fjöllum from its source as a geothermal spring under the Vatnajökull Glacier to the sea just below the Arctic Circle, which took place in Summer 1983. While much of the narrative focuses on the practicalities of travelling through dangerous and challenging terrain (used to train US astronauts prior to the moon landing) the author is not immune to its visual delights, and provides many atmospheric accounts of the impressive glacial regions through which the team passes. A section on the ice caves of Vatnajökull is of particular interest, as it recounts the first exploration by kayak of the under-ice source of Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Documentation was a priority of this expedition, which included an integral film crew employing 'point of view' camera work, resulting in excellent illustration. The Royal Geographical Society awarded Paul Vander-Molen the Ness Award in recognition of his role in this expedition.
Hardback, 140 pages, 26 cm x 21 cm

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Moonlight at Midday

Moonlight at Midday
Sally Carrighar
Michael Joseph, London: 1959
Published the same year as Elizabeth David's French Provincial CookingMoonlight at Midday is a venerable insight into a very different culture. The author was a naturalist who originally visited Alaska to spend a single year studying the environment but stayed, making her home there for a decade. The book falls into two parts, the first being an intelligent, detailed and patiently observed account of life in Unalakleet, then a small coastal settlement known for its abundance of bears, marten, mink, beavers and foxes, not to mention marine wildlife. The second part of the book, which records the author's experiences as a home-owner in Nome and Fairbanks has a more humorous bent, not without a touch of exasperation at times, and offers a vivid account of the practical challenges of living on what was then a frontier. The ice that features in the latter section tends to be within domestic water and oil pipes; it is the first part of the book that will be of most interest to the researcher of wild ice. Carrighar records the intimate knowledge of the sea ice demonstrated by Inuit and bush pilots - and describes some of her own risky winter excursions. 'It is after the ice has broken,' she notes, 'that good hunting develops, and also the insecurity.'
Hardback, 314 pages,

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Six-Cornered Snowflake

The Six-Cornered Snowflake
Johannes Kepler
Edited and Translated by Colin Hardie, with essays by L.L. Whyte and B.F.J. Mason
Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1966
Kepler’s book in its first English translation. In this ‘new year’s gift’ to his patron, the influential astronomer turns his intelligence upon the snowflake, which ‘comes from heaven and looks like a star’. Kepler’s essay provides the first published evidence, in both images and text, of the regular arrangements and close-packing which have proved fundamental to crystallography. Kepler ponders on the problem of why snowflakes are hexagonal and considers the significance of the number six, while repeatedly punning on the nature of nothing. As poetic as it is mathematical or scientific, the treatise encompasses pomegranates, honeybees, stars and Turkish baths, but keeps one foot in scientific reality, recognising that ‘to ascribe a Soul to every single starlet of snow is absurd’.
From the introduction by Whyte: ‘Water has long been regarded as the basis of much that happens in this universe and the snowflake is now recognised as an important clue to the shaping agencies of nature, both in the formation of perfect micro-structures and in the formative and destructive power of glaciers and thunderstorms.’ An illustrated essay by Mason On the Shapes of Snow Crystals looks at the subsequent study of snowflakes from Descartes to Bentley, and notes that the issue of the six-pointed snowflake was raised in China as early as 135 BC. Kepler’s text is set within the context of the history of crystallography in a helpful summary of twentieth-century ideas on the atomic arrangement of snow and ice crystals.
Hardback, 76 pages, 24 x 16 cm

Monday, 16 June 2014


Annie Bissett
Iceberg (from Secret Codewords of the NSA series)
At the height of the global scandal regarding the National Security Agency's acquisition of data, artist Annie Bissett read an article in The New York Times which mentioned the codewords that the NSA uses. She decided to do a series of prints featuring selected codewords, one for each letter of the alphabet, with each codename embossed 'in the spirit of keeping things secret'. It is surely a sign of the times that the word 'iceberg' featured among them. Bissett says that she is unsure what the codeword 'iceberg' signifies, but speculates that it may refer to the fibre-optic cables which travel under the ocean, carrying international internet traffic. Of course, the NSA revelations are often described idiomatically as 'the tip of the iceberg'. Furthermore, Bissett notes, it would appear that the NSA monitored the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, giving US negotiators advance information on other governments' positions. (Notably, world leaders failed to agree a deal on climate change at this summit.)
Six colours and blind emboss mokuhanga print on kochi kozo paper, edition of 20, 152 x 152 mm.