Simply Beautiful Photographs

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National Geographic Simply Beautiful Photographs (National Geographic), Annie Griffiths Belt, book reviewThe title Simply Beautiful Photographs is of course self-explanatory. This book is a National Geographic publication, a hardcover book containing superb images printed on high quality paper. It is just asking to be consumed, but there is of course no way anyone could take in all of its images at once. It is the kind of book to dip into every so often, and every time you do you are bound to come across an image that surprises or delights you and is totally different from the ones you poured over on the previous occasion.

Simply Beautiful Photographs begins with a foreword by Maura Mulvihill and a seven-page introduction, after which it is divided into six sections entitled Light, Composition, Moment, Time, Palette and Wonder. Annie Griffiths supplies a four-page text for each chapter, and in addition there are quotes that appear in a large font next to some of the photos. One of my favourites is Mark Twain’s comment, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” For each image the name of the photographer, the location and a short description of the subject are given, sometimes on a preceding page. In this way some of the photographs can take up a full double-page spread, uninterrupted by any text.

For anyone interested in the accompanying text, it is very readable. In the introduction, Griffiths goes through the implications of each section. She ends by saying “there is beauty, often overlooked, in nearly everything.” She mentions that we often take light for granted, except when we find ourselves in complete darkness. In the section on Composition, she writes about the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, to whom she refers as the “undisputed compositional king of photography.” In her text on Time she makes the point that photography created a stir among the scientific as well as the artistic community. Although Simply Beautiful Photographs can be enjoyed purely by looking at the images, it is worth tearing yourself away from them to read the words of Annie Griffiths.

Perhaps because the criterion here is that a photograph be beautiful, I haven’t yet come across one that I don’t like. There are so many, however, that it is difficult to pick out favourites. From the first section, I would single out Maria Stenzel’s photograph of lights projecting out of the tip of the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, taken on a cloudy night, with tall, slender palm trees leaning in on the right. In the Moment section there is an utterly delightful of three young nuns playing volleyball by Melissa Farlow. Taken at the Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru, it shows the nuns in their white habits all smiling as they play in a red-walled courtyard. Totally different but absolutely wonderful is Mattias Klum’s photograph of mist covering mountains in the Santubong area of Borneo. Included in the section on Time, it shows layers of tree-covered slopes alternating with veils of white mist that give the landscape an unearthly feel.

“The diversity of subject matter in the photographs means that whoever looks through the pages is bound to find plenty to delight in.”

The section on Palette is of course about colour, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the photographs are full of bright hues. James P. Blair’s shot of a trumpeter swan gliding across Yellowstone River in Wyoming is in purely bluish-grey tones broken by areas of white light. It has a wonderfully tranquil feel. Turn a few pages for a quite different scene: “A lone person wanders amid the green of a manicured garden” in Tokyo. Photographer Justin Guariglia has captured the soft greenery of the garden reflected in a lake; to the right, a figure is half hidden under a red umbrella, also reflected in the water. The timing was perfect. This was the case for Sisse Brimberg too, in her study “Confetti falls on dancers performing The Nutcracker” in Washington. Bright light singles out the principal ballerina and one or two other small areas against the overall mauve tones, and the falling confetti builds up to a thick layer on the ground.

Simply Beautiful Photographs even includes a free print of the photograph on the front cover, a landscape by Michael Melfore. The book comes in a cellophane wrapping so there is no danger of the print being lost or of the pages and print being handled before purchase.

Perhaps the only weak point of the book is the fact that many of the photographs are printed over a double page and you see them with the join of the two pages splitting the image. Steve Raymer’s portrait of an elderly Vietnamese woman wearing a traditional hat is an example of the type of photograph that suffers badly from this layout. The only way to avoid the problem, however, would be to reproduce the photographs in a much smaller format.

Author Annie Griffiths has a degree in photojournalism and has worked at the National Geographic Image Collection for thirty years. Her photography has also been featured in Paris Match, Life and Smithsonian among others. She spends some of her time taking fund-raising photos for aid organisations. Ten of her photographs are reproduced in “Simply Beautiful Photographs.” A particularly stunning one is of white pelicans swimming round a bend in the Mississippi Delta. It’s a bird’s eye view, and the pelicans form a crescent shape against the dark water with sunlit tufts of grass on the banks. In complete contrast, another of her images shows a display of fruit at a market in Bakewell, Derbyshire. It looks as though it could have been taken a hundred years ago; the line of rabbits hanging above the fruit might put some people off, however.

I received this book as a gift and it is one that I know will give me hours of pleasure. The diversity of subject matter in the photographs means that whoever looks through the pages is bound to find plenty to delight in. There are landscapes, wildlife scenes, figure studies, even underwater photography. For those less interested in figurative art, there are also images that have abstract qualities. I would not hesitate in recommending Simply Beautiful Photographs as a gift for anyone interested in photography and in the amazing sights our planet has to offer.

Simply Beautiful Photographs by Annie Griffiths
Hardcover, 504 pages
National Geographic Society, 2010

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Simply Beautiful Photographs
by Annie Griffiths

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Written by frangliz