Taken over the course of four years, the more than two hundred photographs of Wild Land (Thames & Hudson, $65) come as close as any images can to letting the natural world speak for itself. In majestic two-page spreads, uninterrupted by text, award-winning photographers Peter and Beverly Pickford show us some of the last unspoiled places from all seven continents. Every one of these photos is stunning, each for different reasons. To take a few (almost) at random: elephants at Etosha National Park, Namibia, stand noble, elegant, and fragile within a subtle frame of light from the full moon. In the same park we see the ghostly figure of a black rhinoceros drinking from a spring. In the Arctic, the Pickfords follow a pair of polar bears as they pick their way across the sea ice—the stretches of blue water between the frozen patches suggesting the daunting challenges of survival. A few pages later: blazingly white sky and a quartet of Arctic terns, delicate and spare as images on a Japanese scroll. Australia, Asia, Europe, North and South America offer similarly splendid, incomparable views. While few people appear in these shots, the Pickfords’ prefatory essays to each section include insightful glimpses of the lives of the Indigenous people who hosted, guided, and taught them throughout this invaluable project.
The stunning photos of Carleton Watkins (University of California, $34.95) are even more amazing once you know that to get these iconic shots of Yosemite, Mt Shasta, and other natural wonders, he had to hike long distances uphill, negotiate rugged ground, perch on cliff-edges, and face all kinds of weather—all while toting hundreds of pounds of fragile equipment. As intrepid as his subject, Tyler Green pursues every lead to flesh out the life of this great 19th-century American photographer. Deprived of documents and glass plate negatives by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Tyler recounts Watkins’s life through the remaining hundreds of photos and through records kept by famous friends, such as John Muir. Green puts the work in larger contexts as well, showing how Watkins’s focus on landscape for its own sake echoed Emerson’s thinking about nature and fostered evolving notions of conservation and national parks and how he helped inform scientists about the botany and geology of the west. Finally, Tyler makes Watkins key to the nation’s idea of itself; showing Easterners the West, he shaped popular ideas of what “America” was, wasn’t, and could be.
Perhaps the foremost literary portrait photographer working today, Beowulf Sheehan is known for the beauty, nuance, and insight of his haunting compositions. His eagerly awaited first book, Author (Black Dog & Leventhal, $40), presents two hundred of his finest portraits of prominent writers, playwrights, historians, journalists, and poets such as Roxane Gay, Patti Smith, Masha Gessen, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and J.K. Rowling. Working in both color and black-and-white, Sheehan created these images in a variety of settings—the photographer’s studio, the subject’s home, concert halls, public spaces—and all bring out new facets of figures we’ve grown to know and love through their words. Sheehan introduces the volume with an essay recalling some of his most memorable moments with the amazing people he’s photographed.