The Big Cloud

Image of The Big Cloud: Specatular Photographs of Storm Clouds
Release Date: 
May 1, 2018
Princeton Architectural Press (Adult)
Reviewed by: 

Camille Seaman is a photographer who has traveled the world, photographed the arctic and its wildlife, and brought home the plight of melting polar regions and climate change.

In her latest book, The Big Cloud, she displays her photographs as a storm chaser, which were taken in the Midwest during the years 2008 to 2014. She states, “My images were never about what these storms destroyed or the pain and damage they inflicted on the people of the region. I always wanted my images to speak to the duality of all things—to speak to the essential truth that there can be beauty in something terrible and vice versa, that there is no creation without destruction.”

She goes on to describe her first encounter with a storm as, “biblical in every sense of the word. I was in awe, my mouth hanging open. I was watching creation . . . It is visceral and multisensory: the smell of the charged particles, the sweetness of the grass, the scent of the pavement just before it rains, the sight of wind blowing through cornfields.”

And many of her images are impressionistic and truly epic, beautiful with a staggering sense of scale. However, books have the amazing capacity to make small things seem large, and large things seem small. While the subject matter and the beauty captured by Camille Seaman are enthralling, one is less than awed by the image dimensions of the book.

This book deserved an 11 x 14 inch image size, as is found in so many other favorite coffee table books that aptly embellish and expand the scope of an image. The typical image size (10 by 6.5 inches) of The Big Cloud really dwarfs the expectations of this book as well as the perception of its content, despite the lovely print and color quality. Although some of the photographs are stunning and admittedly awesome, the size of the reproductions vastly undercuts their impact. It minimizes the importance of the content and unfortunately, our estimation of the images themselves, which is really a shame.

Additionally, apart from the lovely quality of the book’s printing and binding, the photographer’s technique is somewhat disappointing. Perhaps we have been spoiled by people like Ansel Adams and Minor White who decades ago could extract subtlety from highlights without letting them burn out or show us details in shadows while maintaining a convincing darkness. But all too often Seaman’s images give us shadows that quickly descend into featureless murk and highlights that rapidly transition into burn-out without a trace of detail.

Seaman also has a tendency to over-darken the edges of her images to emphasize the center. In the heat of battle and split-second decisions storm photography is extremely challenging, but it seems that this kind of excessive photographic contrast in Seamen’s images are part of her style. Still, it is a bit disappointing to find that the images do not deliver the dynamic range possible, especially with such compelling subject matter.