The Family Album of Wild Africa
“A wonderful, talented, slice of Africa, an Africa fast receding . . .”
Laurent Baheux's The Family Album of Wild Africa is a richly photographed, richly designed tome. Hearkening back to the fifties and sixties in an approach to photography, many images remind one of the work of Peter Beard, Nick Brandt, and Lucien Clergue (“Camargue Morte”). Of course, there are reflections of the honesty of earlier African work by Roosevelt, Denys Finch Hatton, and Isaac Dinesen.
Layered on top of that evaluation, one realizes that the photographic contrast in these images is used in a way reminiscent of platinum palladium printing. Sound easy? It is not. This is a work that shows dedication, a search for perfection and, perhaps even harder to recognize, an editor's sound eye.
This is not a collection of images, carefully arranged in chapters. Like all good illustrated books, you can read it from front to back and vise-versa. The book, either way, takes you on a journey. A wonderful, talented, slice of Africa, an Africa fast receding . . . a journey not anywhere reminiscent of a tourist visit to East or South Africa—no zebra-painted buses viewpoints here!—but the real Africa, the one that is being eroded, marginalized, trampled by the expansion of man and man's needs.
Yes, there are images clearly shot in wildlife refuges or national parks. Such large herds of elephants are not natural in the wild, but the consequence of the creation of refuges wherein the elephants feel safe, away from poachers and, simply, breed up and congregate. Are they “wild”? They certainly behave so.
It does not matter, and the book doesn't try to explain man's inhumanity to the animals, rather the author is determined to show you the majesty and the reality—often in conflict—of the animals' existence. Gone are the touchy-feely, sentimental feelings that photographers often hold their noses printing and then make a fortune selling to Park Avenue apartments. In their place are the kings, queens, scoundrels, jesters, and supporting players in the African landscape—all depicted as you would feel them if you were there, in person, out of the Land Rover, on foot, vulnerable, and enthralled.
And that is perhaps the point of the book, as if you were there. Unlike the Beard and Brandt images more commonly heralded which scream I saw this, you never will, these Baheux images evoke a sharing, an honest and truthful chance to pretend you, too, were standing in the open savanna witnessing some of the planets most wonderful animals, good and bad, friendly and dangerous, rare and common.
Just how good is the photographer? As an expert, the reviewer can attest that in over 30 years wildlife and artwork experience, the image of the leopard on page 91 is remarkable. Action still images of leopard are rare, action images of leopards in trees are more rare, action images of leopard descending trees almost unknown. Fluke or careful planning? There is no explanation and thank goodness for that; the image and countless others speak for themselves with impact.
In fact if you didn't know an animal by sight you may be left wondering what creature it was; can you guess its name? And, again, that is clever because, in the end, the natural link of all animals in Africa is primordial messaging for the viewer—and these images will, no doubt, send some shivers up the reader's spine. Exactly the point of a real and rare journey into the heart, the animal heart, of Africa—to take you out of your comfort zone. And this book, beautifully printed, does that in spades.