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Light on the Earth: Two Decades of Winning Images    by BBC order for
Light on the Earth
by BBC
Order:  USA  Can
BBC Books, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In his Foreword to this magnificent collection of photographs, David Attenborough speaks of the impossibility of picking the best from over the quarter of a million images submitted to the prestigious international Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition over twenty years. He says that 'Great nature pictures ... remind us that the world that lies outside us but of which we are assuredly a part is the most profound source of beauty, wonder and joy.' Readers will feel all those emotions while examining the unforgettable photos in this superb collection.

There's a brief summary of the competition that has become 'a showcase and a forum for wildlife photographers all over the world.' Well-known figures introduce the seven sections of this lovely volume with essays on Illuminations, Moments, Formations, Reflections, Connections, Compositions, and Portraits. For example, in Illuminations, Yann Arthus-Bertrand tells how experiences with 'the lions of the Masai Mara' taught him to take pictures and about light. The cover image shows snow geese in mist irradiated by the early morning sun of New Mexico. At the back of the book is a summary of each of the images, introducing the photographer and giving technical details of how the picture was taken.

There are creatures, young and old, caught in unusual, playful, and even mystical moments - a lion encounters pocupines, albatrosses court, a male lion sees a cub for the first time, and a leopard lounges draped over a rock, the moon rising behind him. Many portraits - such as one of wolves on a frozen Minnesota lake or another of a moose at sunset in Yellowstone - show animals dwarfed by the immensity of nature. Some juxtapositions provoke thought, like the picture of a delightful bottlenose dolphin surfing a huge oil-tanker's bow-wave. Close-ups of coral, a seahorse, or a jellyfish give insights into the alien world under the ocean.

Many of these pictures are so perfect as to appear surreal. They make clear, even to the uninitiated, what enormous effort went into taking them, and the importance of timing, as well as light, in photography. In his essay on Connections, Raoul Slater says, 'I wish that we could all stop for a moment. Take a deep breath. Clear our minds of all the millions of artificial images we have seen. Return to what is real and important.' This glorious book, Light on the Earth, helps us do just that, by reminding us of the peace and beauty to be discovered in the world all around us.

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