Last week I called the famous Japanese mountaineering magazine, Yama-to-Keikoku (山と溪谷 Mountains and Canyons) to ask about my book, The Japan Alps, which I sent to them for review back in February. I was told the book was mentioned in their May issue, a brief introduction to the book of barely three sentences, but a mention (with a B&W reproduction of the cover) nonetheless in a magazine of such esteem and prestige.
It was just over a year ago when I put the book up for sale in the Blurb bookstore and shortly after that time I looked at the book dozens of times, the memories of making the book with all my grand intentions (not all of them realized) and the adventures I experienced during my photographic pursuits still fresh. Then I sold all but two copies and those two were sent off – one to YamaKei and one to a publisher of photo art books along with my proposal for the project.
The book proposal was returned (after spending eight months in the courier’s warehouse and an afternoon with the publisher) and now I have one copy of my book at home. This morning I took a few moments to just look through it and see what I thought, without reading any of the text. It’s has been almost a year and a half since my last exploits in the Japan Alps and time and other activities have removed me from the direct memories of putting together the book. I tried to look at the book from an outside perspective. How do the photos look? What does this book say visually about a landscape that I made dear to me? Is this an attractive photo art book? I adopted the role of an armchair traveler or someone with an interest in the Japan Alps but without great familiarity.
The cover I have always enjoyed. Snowy, rugged mountains with soft curves of snow in the foreground, a bedding of cotton clouds below the peaks and the jagged spire of Yarigatake in the far distance. The print quality is very good too.
Turning to the first photograph inside however, there is a noticeable drop in the print quality. The glossy sharp edges and clear colours are softened and muted slightly. It’s a bit like listening to a modern digital recording and then putting on an album from the sixties. The quality of the reproduction just can’t compare. But after turning the pages a few more times the lower print quality – like the lower sound quality of a sixties album – becomes all but forgotten as the photographs (or music) become more important in what they have to say.
Most of the photographs came out alright and the light and colours and mood are preserved very well. Once the journey through the seasons in the Alps is underway, there is much wonder to enjoy and appreciate. Vast mountain scenes, delicate portraits of nature, and scenes capturing the enormity and grandeur of the high peaks begin to weave out a tale of alpine splendor. There are the steep fluted cliffs of Kashima Yarigatake that recall Himalayan mountains. There is Hotakadake towering over the Azusa River at Kamikochi. There are intimate views of alpine flora and details of snow and rock and ice. There are rocky peaks glowing orange in the alpine glow and cloud seas filling the valleys below illuminated crags. And there are wide-angle views capturing glacial cirques and steep cliffs with peaks marching off into the distance. Sometimes I can see the influences of Canadian photographers Freeman Patterson and Janis A. Kraulis in the photographs. Sometimes the ghost of Eliot Porter has come to whisper. Other scenes echo the images of modern day Japanese photographers. By the time the final pages are turned and the last photograph is viewed, I feel I have successfully told a visually satisfying introductory story to the Japan Alps.
Of course the project was never completed to my designs. I had at least seven more hikes planned that I have yet to make. Some important views were not captured due to weather being uncooperative and on one outing my timing left me tramping through the trees on both days as two of the finest displays of alpine glow teased me through the tight stand of silhouetted tree trunks. Ideally, this would have been a 160-page book with views from several more locations and during specific seasons included. But for those who are not closely acquainted with the Japan Alps, I think this book has much to say and will surely inspire.
It’s a very nice book, if I do say so myself. However, the quest for a quality art book publication will continue.