August 2013 Review: A Look At Photo Books

~by Michele Gregoire

We have all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and most of us have found it to be unfailingly true. Thus, often a good book for the moment is one filled with photographs of nature, beautiful vistas, animals, plants, and various natural habitats. Usually the photos alone are sufficient to speak their own messages, as the saying suggests, but many of the coffee table books and little photo books that are so available today contain their own brief messages, morals, adages, or commentary that pair with the pictures. These can be thought provoking, reflective, or humorous. Because many such books populate my home I decided to share some of them and recommend the genre of what’s usually referred to as ‘coffee table books’ for viewing. I am inspired by St. Bonaventure, who said “If there is anyone who is not enlightened to the sublime magnificence of created things, he is blind. If there is anyone who, seeing all these works of God, does not praise Him, he is dumb. If there is anyone who, from so many signs, cannot perceive God, that man is foolish.” Beautiful photos of God’s creation affirm St. Bonaventure’s observation and provide a soothing accompaniment to prayer and reflection. Therefore, we should all have a few of these books to view often and to support a dialogue with God in our prayer life.

I have a few current favorites (from among the many that I own) that beckon to me when I sit by the table where they reside and I will share these in this month’s column. Of these four books, three are little thematic photo collections of cats and one is a text and photo book on shorebirds. The World of the Shorebirds, by Harry Thurston, is a Sierra Club book published in 1996. It contains three parts – Keepers of the Shore, Hemispheric Travellers (sic), and Conserving Shorebird Oases – consisting of considerable informative and educational text and many beautiful pictures of shorebirds from around the world. Included with the stunning photos are the migratory flyways of the various species and other facts about these birds. This is a coffee table book ‘plus,’ with considerable narrative educational content on the birds, their life cycles, and habitats. I recommend Thurston’s book, and others like it, that offer beautiful photos sufficient for themselves as well as reading content when text is important to convey information about the pictures.

The remaining three books are some of my favorites and would be well appreciated by fellow ailurophiles. A small but encyclopedic photo book, A Pocket Guide to Cats: A Complete Guide to the Feline World, is a recent acquisition that packs an incredible number of color photographs and voluminous information into its pocket size. The book was authored by Emily Williams and published in the UK. This is a great little book to have for easy access to information on cats, emphasizing the various breeds but also including content on care and ownership. The book’s sections are divided thusly: Introduction; Development of the Domestic Cat; Colors, Patterns, and Shapes; Cat Breeds, which is subdivided into Longhair and Semi-Longhair Cats, Shorthair Cats, Cats with Special Characteristics; Choosing and Caring for Your Cat; and Keeping Your Cat Healthy. Two commendable appendices are very helpful – the Glossary, and Breed Registries which lists (with contact information) and summarizes the various cat fancy groups that register and title pedigree and household pet cats and sponsor shows. The book was published in 2006 and the address and phone for the Cat Fanciers’ Association has changed since that time so some of the other contacts could be out-dated as well. A visit to the website of any of the registries is advised for the most up to date information.

Curious Cats, a photo book by renowned wildlife photographer Mitsuaki Iwago, is another favorite. Cats are captured in beautiful, expressive, humorous, and loving poses and the photographer has shown each of these felines as individuals with their own personalities, communication, and expressions. As a professional photographer well experienced with animal subjects he has created a true photo book with very little written content because none was necessary – the photos speak for themselves. In his Introduction, Iwago says that of all the exotic species he has photographed around the world “none has captured my attention and my heart as much as cats.” His love and deep feeling for cats is evident in each photograph, and the moments he has captured, picked from over thirty years of photographs, are priceless. One can truly see the perfect work of God and the beauty of his creation in the photos of cats within this book. And Iwago himself hopes cat lovers everywhere will delight in the “playful and elegant cats” and says in his concluding sentence of the Introduction, “Because as I always say, when cats are happy, people are happy, and the world is happy.”

Finally, one of my favorite little books is What Cats Teach Us…Life’s Lessons Learned from Our Feline Friends, by Glenn Dromgoole. Published in 2000, it is a photo book with accompanying adages or morals. It is precious and contains messages we ought to heed along with the photos that clearly proclaim the brief text. The book is divided into five sections: About Healthy Living, About Getting Along with Others, About Self-Esteem, About Self-Improvement, and About Everyday Living. The advice is sensible and sometimes obvious, such as in the first section on healthy living where there is a photo of a cat drinking out of his water bowl with the suggestion “Drink plenty of water.” Very timely advice comes in the next section with two photos – a little girl with a kitten and an elderly woman holding and petting a cat – along with the reminder to “Enjoy the company of children…and older people.” This echoes the Holy Father Pope Francis’s important instruction to the faithful to create a society of inclusion that values the youngest and oldest. Another gospel message is contained in this section with a photo of a little girl sharing her sandwich with a kitten – both are biting a corner at the same time – and the simple message “Share what you have with others.” Other reminders that are particularly salient from the remaining sections include: “A little peace and quiet will calm both you and your soul” (a napping kitty in the self-esteem section); “Be curious about what’s on the other side of the fence, but try to avoid jealousy” (a cat looking over a fence top in the self-improvement section); and “Avoid fights” (two kittens play-fighting together in everyday living). This book is the smallest of the four reviewed but it contains the best messages because that was its purpose. It functions as a sweet reminder of how to behave and brings joy just in looking at the photos.

I recommend the four books addressed in the column this month as fine examples of topical photo books but also suggest any similar publications in this genre. It’s nice to pick up and enjoy a book that only has to be looked at and appreciated rather than be read. Pictures of creation speak to us without words and generate contemplation, so with the help of beautiful photo books of nature many prayerful moments will occur.

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Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.

Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.

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