Rocky Mountains, by Frank S. Smythe. 4to., 149 pp., 64 photographic plates, 16 in color. London, 1948: A. & C. Black. Price, 30/-.
Mr. Smythe has, I think, produced 24 books about mountains and climbing in the last 19 years, including eight quarto albums of photographs with a little text, of which this is one. It covers the Canadian Rockies from Assiniboine to Robson. The introduction is a condensed description of the region for the benefit chiefly of newcomers who wish to climb, to travel off the beaten path, and to photograph, with advice as to methods. The paragraphs opposite each picture vary in character. Some are simply descriptive, others concern photographic technique, and others tell briefly of the climb during which the picture was taken. Brief as the text is, it is not perfunctory. Mr. Smythe’s facility in writing makes it interesting, and his wide experience gives it the presumption of authority.
Although I did not read this semi-popular text with a critical chip on my shoulder, I noted a few infelicities, and there may be more. The description of what is going on in Plate 31 leaves me confused. Referring to page 98, I suggest that Hungabee, not Assiniboine, is “The Chief.” Hodge says the latter means “those who cook with stones.”
I shall not attempt to discuss the photographs from a technical or artistic point of view. I liked best, of the monochromes, those of the Victoria ridge, some of which appeared in the National Geographic; also those of Mount Brussels and Lake McArthur; and, of the color plates, those in which the golden September aspens turn the landscape into fairyland. I liked least the sad travesty on the beauty of Lake O’Hara. However, I must comment on the monochrome reproduction, which is probably a serious disappointment to the author. Photographs which were doubtless very satisfy- ing in gradation and texture have been turned into “soot and whitewash,” very likely because of financial stringency in England. One has but to compare this with one of his pre-war albums, A Camera in the Hills, for instance, to see what this one might have been. On the other hand, oddly enough, the Kodachromes seem to have fared better. As far as I can judge by comparing them with my own color slides of the same region, they have reproduced well, and they go far toward redeeming an otherwise slightly disappointing book. Those who love these mountains, about which few books have appeared in recent years, will wish to own this, in spite of its shortcomings and its excessive cost. I have already got much pleasure from it.
Nathaniel L. Goodrich