If you took all the prose and pictures in this new release from Gibbs Smith and tried to boil them down to a thought, you might end up with Joyce Kilmer's well-worn couplet:Luckily for readers - and the publisher - this handsome, over-sized, "eye candy" tribute to trees can't be cut back. There's just too much mood and magic here to be capsulized.
"Entering the Grove" is one of three "art books" the Gibbs Smith people are bringing out for Christmas. Two smaller books ("The Flowering of Art Nouveau Graphics" by Julia King and "When I Look At Pictures" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti) will also make their debut in early November.But it's the "Grove" book that seems to have captured the hearts of the ecology conscious Smith company. From the use of recycled paper to the "Plant a Thousand Trees" information at the end, this is obviously a labor of love. It's also a book with an agenda: The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Let's preserve them.
Photographer Braasch should elicit a thousand words of praise for every shot here. His available light "portraits" have a primal, mythical quality. Often Braasch seems to shoot the forest through light, not with it.
The reverential tone is echoed in Kim Stafford's text. Stafford has written several short essays for the book, ranging from city meditations ("Crossing to Long Island: Brooklyn") to woodsy insights ("Camping by White River"). Often - in both sentence structure and tone - Stafford sounds like one who's heard the call to be a storyteller for the tribe; a pagan priest with a vocation:The forest is a library where fire might come, where roads penetrate and trucks cart off the centuries in thirty-two-foot lengths. A little man may kill a great tree. But for a long time we have made stories about the World Tree, the great trunk that will survive us all.At other times Stafford tones down the rhetoric and offers folksy insights and good, hard information. I like him best when he feels less poetic.
In the end, though, the book must fly or fail on the photographs. And it's Braasch's touch with a camera that keeps the volume airborne. Whether he's shooting a grove of busy alders or capturing evergreens above the snow line, Braasch can make a group of trunks look like a meeting of the gods.
Keep this book in mind for your Christmas list.