Fireside Reads: The Centre Cannot Hold
Nature's patterns can be stark and amusing, stunning, and noble. And when you look at them in black and white, devoid of color, they actually seem stronger, more pronounced. That's the effect of David Gulden's grand new book on African wildlife, a book that captures your eye and starts you dreaming about a photographic safari.
Pulled from a dozen years of photographing zebras, elephants, lions, impalas, waterbucks and other wildlife in places such as Aberdare National Park, Tarangire National Park, Amboseli National Park, Tsavo National Park, Tsavo West National Park, the 94 black-and-white prints in this coffee-table-sized book force you to stop and linger over each one. And to return again to see what you might have missed the first time you looked at them.
Through his eyes we are treated to the geometries of wildlife: zebras in reflection, baby rhinos in somewhat comical scale against their mothers, cheetas at play, bull elephants in springs, and colobus monkey's in mid-air.
A hardcover book that measures 9 inches wide by 11 tall, part of the beauty of The Centre Cannot Hold is how the photographs are laid out to best convey their images. In two-page spreads we see a herd of zebras running through the forest, an elephant dusting himself with volcanic ash from Mount Kilimanjaro, and a beautiful night-time shot of endangered mountain bongo taken in Aberdare National Park.
And that's just an introduction to this wonderful collection and display of African wildlife.
We see bull elephants marching almost in sync through a shallow water hole, zebra stallions fighting, crowned eagles building their nest. Through the use of a custom-made fish tank filled with tilapia minnows, Mr. Gulden captures with his camera a pied kingfisher on the hunt. Scales of wildlife are on display in the shot of a baby chameleon held on the fingertips and another of an elephant peering through a doorway.
How does Mr. Gulden land such images in his cameras?
"He is someone who tears the doors off vehicles so he can set his camera down at a unique low angle. He rigs trigger switches deep in the bush to snap night pictures of the elusive and endangered bongo, which even the biologists studying them may never see. He climbs trees to leave cameras dangling over the nests of eagles, then waits for hours a hundred feet away to snap the shutter," Susan Minot writes in the book's forward.
"He is someone who knows art is long, that a deep knowldge of one's subject is required before it can be mastered, and that, in the case of animals, an enormous amount of time must be devoted to waiting and watching and understanding. He has spent more than ten years doing just that. He has waited till his work was ready."
The results also are the result of the photographer honing his sense of not just the possibilities that lurk in the forests and savannah, but developing a keen sensory perception to both come away with great photographs and with his life.
For one of my projects, a few game trackers and I hiked deep into the forest to check my camera traps. I had set the cameras up along animal trails, for weeks at a time they were ready to shoot the moment an animal walked in front and broke the infrared beam. I was trying to capture the elusive mountain bongo, a massive antelope that had once been thought to be extinct in the world.
Getting to the trail was an adventure. It wasn't long before my skin felt the electric tingle of the ubiguitous stinging nettles that littered the forest. The nettles could have been avoided, but all senses were on hyperalert for more consequential dangers, Mr. Gulden writes in an introduction.
The game trackers and I hiked through a buffalo maze, an expanse of short bamboo where we were constantly crouching and slipping in the mud. The visibility was so limited I could barely see the person in front of me.
Buffalo are numerous here. They are aggressive and can kill. The trackers and I developed multiple-sensory alertness, listening for the sound of broken branches and sniffing the air for the musty mammal odor, our gazes scanning back and forth.
The Centre Cannot Hold is a wonderful book, one to page slowly through at night and consider the wilds that still exist in the world.
Having spent the last 20 years in Africa photographing wildlife alongside the likes of Peter Beard, David Gulden has come to understand that his endeavour is more than one to create appealing artworks, but instead to create a document of the declining landscape of all the precious creatures that live there. In 95 black-and-white photographs that feature tranquility, bursts of action, portraiture, and the natural canvas of the animals and their environments, he visualises for us the concept of global change so famously described by William Yeats in his poem, 'The Second Coming,' and from which the inspired title of this work derives. Join this extraordinary photographer and environmentalist, David Gulden, on a phenomenal personal yet universal safari that until the publication of this book would not have been possible except through actual travel; a safari where nature's creatures are captured with greater intimacy and artistry than one would have thought possible.