Photo books show off Alaska's charms

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2004

This summer, regional publishers have produced several handsome photography books showing off Alaska's beauty and adventure. Unlike coffee-table collections, these are compact and inexpensive.

"Alaska Wild," by well-known outdoor photographer Art Wolfe, fits the mold of classic nature photography. During his 30-year career, Wolfe has traveled the world and garnered numerous awards for his camera work.

In "Alaska Wild," he presents an array of images from the state's wilderness, with an emphasis on landscapes and wildlife. Don't expect any sign of humans in this collection.

The photographer shows particular skill in using natural light to bring out interesting details and rich colors, such as alpenglow. His scale ranges from vast mountain ranges to macro-lens views of lichens, and he makes interesting use of ice and wildflowers to frame vistas.

My quibble with this book is that it isn't bigger. Wolfe covers several regions of the state, but the Alaska travels he portrays are limited. He shows scenes from Southeast, Southcentral, the Interior and Southwest, but the arctic and Aleutians are missing. His Interior shots are limited to the vicinity of Denali and his definition of Southwest Alaska is vague enough to include a view of Mount Iliamna taken from off the end of the Homer Spit.

His book has a beautiful partner, "Northwest Wild," published at the same time and covering scenes from Washington, Oregon and Northern California.


Moose Views

Alaska Northwest Books

$8.95 (paperback)

"Moose Views" takes a totally different tack on Alaska's wildlife. Many Alaska books feature photos of the homely but elegant critters that are perhaps the most visible wild animals throughout the Railbelt. What sets this little book apart is a comic focus on urban moose.

It includes such modern Alaska classics as the moose chilling in the kiddie wading pool and the one checking the McDonald's carry-out window, alongside more conventional moose meanderings.

Tying the photos together is a silly little narrative line, its humor and large lettering suitable for all ages from the read-aloud preschool crowd to those whose aging eyes prefer big print. The book concludes with one page of "nuggets" of straight-laced moose-related information.

The only harm in it is one picture showing a woman petting one Bullwinkle's ample nose. The gullible or ignorant might get the impression that the big beasts are cuddly rather than dangerous.

Otherwise, "Moose Views" is fluff, but it is fun fluff.


Alaska's Bush Planes

Text by Ned Rozell

Alaska Northwest Books

$14.95 (hardcover)

Mother Nature's splendors steal the show in most of the books, but human ingenuity gets its due in "Alaska's Bush Planes."

This volume pictures modern Bush planes at rest, work and play throughout the state. The crisp images not only show off the aircraft against the state's stunning scenery, but deftly illustrate aspects of aviation such as salvaging a ditched plane, changing from wheels to floats and modifications made to update aging craft or facilitate short takeoffs and landings. Several pictures highlight the roles of flight-seeing, air taxis and the volunteer Iditarod Air Force that services the famous sled-dog race.

Fairbanks-based author Ned Rozell contributes the text, including a graceful introductory essay outlining the history and role of Bush aviation in Alaska.

"Small planes are still the number-one choice of Alaskans who want or need to reach remote villages, coastal towns, or 'off-airstrip' gravel bars or hilltops," he writes.

Brief excerpts from stirring published accounts of Alaska flying also enhance the book.

Most planes pictured are de Havillands or Cessnas, along with rarer types such as Grummond Goose and Citabria. It would have been nice if the book had included an appendix showing the major types, but the photo captions are chocked full of informative tidbits for interested readers.

All these books are handsomely produced. They provide plenty worth looking at, and would make handsome gifts for visitors, relatives or anyone with particular interest in the subjects they depict.

Shana Loshbaugh is a writer and former Clarion reporter who now lives near Fairbanks.

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