I recently had the pleasure of reading the latest book from National Geographic, "Visions of Paradise." At a whopping 306 pages (including bios,) this coffee-table style book is jam packed with images provided by a bevy of talented photographers. The book is divided into three categories--land, water and air--and each section begins with an eye-opening essay.
The "land" essay, written by journalist Linda Kulman, begins by stripping away romantic notions about aboriginals that many people don’t even realize they hold, then goes into some shocking realities regarding our lack of adequate land usage and maintenance.
The "water" essay, written by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. (a former senior editor of National Geographic,) points out the fickleness of human memory--the danger inherent in not knowing how things used to be. He also touches on some good news, but the message is clear; there is some good news, but not nearly as much as there should be.
The "air" essay, written by Brian Doyle (editor of Portland Magazine,) has a more poetic feel than the first two. Not only does he write about the environmental challenges we face with the modern, mass-pollution of our breathing medium, but he reveals just how little we truly know about our atmosphere.
There were only two things about the book that I may have done differently. Although the essays center on our lack of proper resource management, there are photos taken from and of places where this mismanagement is clearly evident; photos taken from taxis and airplanes, photos of cities, a helicopter and a tiger at a now-bankrupt Six Flags facility. Although there’s good and bad in everything and there are certainly few easy answers, personally I wouldn’t consider these images "Visions of Paradise." Others are free to disagree with me, of course. In a similar vein, the book doesn’t seem to be printed on recycled paper (if it is, I couldn’t find any mention of it.)
The other, occasional disappointment was that some of the photos were printed across two pages, in which case the crease of the book swallows part of the image. The effect is minimal in most cases (landscape photos are more forgiving in this respect,) but it’s noticeable in a few (particularly in the case of photos with singular, main subjects.)
Despite these, the book is stunning. The wide range of photographic styles and subjects are a joy to behold. The book, itself, is well made. I expect it to outlast me and I look forward to passing it on to my nephews. The message of this book is as insightful and dire as it needs to be. I only hope that the news will be better by the time my nephews reach my age.
In conjunction with the release of this book, National Geographic is also holding an online photography contest, requesting YOUR visions of paradise! Winners (which will be announced Jan. 12, 2009,) will receive a copy of the book with their image on the cover.