Himalayas Photographs and text by Yoshikazu Shirakawa. Testimonial by Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva, King of Nepal. Preface by Arnold Toynbee. Introduction by Sir Edmund Hillary. Essay, “The Great Himalayas,” by Kyuya Fukuda. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 248 full-page illustrations in full color, 6 multipage fold- out color plates, 6 maps and diagrams. 12 x 17 inches, embossed binding, wraparound overcase. $75.
This must be the largest and best group of Himalayan photographs ever assembled in print. Half or more are aerials. Nearly half are of Nepal, the rest are more or less equally divided between the Punjab and Sikkim Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. Many of the photographs were taken at sunrise or sunset, providing deep shadows and fantastic colors— a little too fantastic on some plates. The foldouts, two of which are an incredible 17 x 44 inches, are overwhelming.
However, not every mountain lover will be satisfied with what has been done here. This is an ostentatious book, slick, and slightly deceptive too. Take the last point: on close inspection, many of the photographs are of the same mountain, or basin, or cirque; and why not? The photographer has captured different perspectives of the same land- form. But the captions—which are often vaguely worded and are very widely separated from the plates—don’t point this out, and the sequence of the photographs is not geographical, which inhibits comparison. Even the dustjacket description of the photographs, which I have quoted above, is inaccurate: a couple of dozen of the plates are black and white, not “full color.”
Most of the text is either pretentious or unnecessary or banal. Hillary’s and Toynbee’s comments are gracious, but who needs them? The foreword provided by the King of Nepal gets lost and cheapened in this redundance of frontmatter. The photographer’s rambling text should have been severely edited or eliminated. Like most graphic artists writing about their work, he is fatuous, self-important, and hasn’t quite taken the trouble to sort out his thoughts and make them coherent. He goes on and on about his bravery in dealing with hypoxia, and tells us how much he loves the Sherpas, who love him too even though they are underpaid and overworked and must put up with his bad temper.
The only text of substance is Fukuda’s short essay, “The Great Himalayas,” which provides an excellent geographical orientation to the several ranges comprising the Himalayas. It should be read while examining a good large-scale physical map; unfortunately, the maps at the end of this book are practically useless.
But in this book it’s the pictures that count, and they are spectacular. Many have too much contrast for my taste, and in some the printer has emphasized one color too much, heightening the surrealistic effects already present in nature. But I should stop complaining, because these are great photographs.