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The Karakoram—Mountains of Pakistan

The Karakoram—Mountains of Pakistan. Shiro Shirahata. Cloudcap, Seattle, 1990. 192 pages, 101 color photographs of which 56 measure 14×20-inches and 45 measure 10×l4-inches. $75.00.

Shiro Shirahata, whose superb Nepal Himalaya appeared in 1983, is one of the world’s great mountain photographers. The Karakoram will not disappoint those who know his earlier work. These marvelous photographs are beautifully reproduced. Their aesthetic beauty cannot be denied. My only criticism is that there is almost a complete lack of any element but rock and ice; no human figures, no flowers in the foreground. But with such perfect composition, such superb detail down to the smallest rock, this is a minor complaint. Even in the shadows, the viewer has no problem in seeing what is there. Sunset and sunrise pictures can be a surrealist trap. However, I have stood on the same spot as Shirahata and snapped Gasherbrum IV at sunset. His colors are identical to mine. His photographs are an accurate portrayal of what is there, caught by the eye of an artist. And—for the mountaineer, they are a goldmine for route planning.

The title, The Karakoram, is possibly a little misleading. The subtitle, Mountains of Pakistan, is more accurate. Because of the senseless on-going war between India and Pakistan over the eastern Karakoram, Shirahata was unable to cross over into the region controlled by India and so he could not depict that part of the range. However, the last part of the volume is devoted to Pakistani mountains which are not in the Karakoram: Nanga Parbat, the Hindu Raj and the Pakistani part of the Hindu Kush.

The viewer is not disturbed by captions on the photographs themselves. There is an 18-page section in which a small black-and-white copy of each photograph appears along with the name, altitude and data about the peaks and information about what went on when he took the picture, the exact spot where he stood and the season. Technical data includes the focal length of the lens and the exposure. The photographer finally devotes three pages telling about the 430 days he spent in the field from 1987 to 1989, about porter problems and how he accomplished his task.

Despite the high price, this is a book to own and savor.

H. Adams Carter