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Book Review: Muir Roots 
At One With the Wild Photographic Tales By David Jesse McChesney

08/01/2012 05:24PM ● Published by Denise Brown

Book Review By Delphine Lucas

David Jesse McChesney is a master wildlife photographer. His photographs of animals and birds are second to none. The quality of each photograph is stellar.

He is a master of using natural light to highlight the fur, scales, feathers, and colors of each creature to show them to their best advantage. The fur of the bobcat and cottontail looks thick and plush, the bird feathers soft and colorful, and the scales of the tortoise are like an ancient mosaic. His love of animals and his spiritual connection to them is apparent in every single wildlife shot. The animals allow him into their space to be photographed, and it is obvious that a relationship does exist between animal and photographer. McChesney also photographs landscapes. The best are the landscapes that include wildlife because he understands the relationship between animals and their habitats. My favorites of this type are the two-page spreads of wolves crossing a snowscape in Yellowstone and the literally thousands of snow geese congregated in a valley in New Mexico.

The book is organized by habitat for the most part; the southwest, the northwest, Gulf Coast and his favorite area, Canyonlands, where the photos are landscapes.

He also has a section on waterfalls from anywhere he finds one he likes. It is an odd way to put a book together. The section devoted to the waterfalls is an aberration. The photos look lurid and fantasy-like because their color appears to have been enhanced. The purples, blues and yellows in the water look as though there were toxic waste spills at nearby chemical plants, and they ended up in the waterfalls.

The strength of the other photos in the book is their natural- ism, and if they have been enhanced, it is not obvious. In other words this particular section sticks out like a sore thumb, both in the table of contents and in the middle of the book.

The writing in the book is another story. It works well when McChesney shares his personal stories. He tells how he came to be a nature lover as a child due to his grandmother’s influence, and he tells us at times what the animals were doing when he photographed them.

I wish there had been more information about what it is like to be a wildlife photographer. Does he camp? How long does it take to find a wildcat to photograph? Is he always alone? What is this talented man’s story?

It would have been great to have an enlargement of himself with the bears right at the beginning of the book, instead of what seemed like an afterthought, on the back cover. A couple of poignant quotes from John Muir, one of his very distant relatives, strategically placed in the book would have been more powerful than numerous quotes placed helter skelter throughout, some of which weren’t so great (“Nature has always something rare to show us.”). Providing small amounts of information about some of the animals next to the animals’ pictures, much of which is obvious to most people, didn’t work well either. And the physical constructs of the book itself proved to be a detraction. What can I say? The first time I opened it and looked at it, it completely fell apart in my hands. Now I have so many calendar pages. So much again for things made in China.

In a perfect world, I would like to see these beautiful animal photographs in a hard cover edition with a full-sized enlargement of the “Blue Heron Fights Wild” on the inside cover because this particular photo is a work of art and would enhance the book. This book needed more outside critique before it went to press. Input from an artist or designer would have been invaluable. – Delphine LucasDavid Jesse McChesney is a master wildlife photographer. His photographs of animals and birds are second to none. The quality of each photograph is stellar.

He is a master of using natural light to highlight the fur, scales, feathers, and colors of each creature to show them to their best advantage. The fur of the bobcat and cottontail looks thick and plush, the bird feathers soft and colorful, and the scales of the tortoise are like an ancient mosaic. His love of animals and his spiritual connection to them is apparent in every single wildlife shot. The animals allow him into their space to be photographed, and it is obvious that a relationship does exist between animal and photographer. McChesney also photographs landscapes. The best are the landscapes that include wildlife because he understands the relationship between animals and their habitats. My favorites of this type are the two-page spreads of wolves crossing a snowscape in Yellowstone and the literally thousands of snow geese congregated in a valley in New Mexico.

The book is organized by habitat for the most part; the southwest, the northwest, Gulf Coast and his favorite area, Canyonlands, where the photos are landscapes.

He also has a section on waterfalls from anywhere he finds one he likes. It is an odd way to put a book together. The section devoted to the waterfalls is an aberration. The photos look lurid and fantasy-like because their color appears to have been enhanced. The purples, blues and yellows in the water look as though there were toxic waste spills at nearby chemical plants, and they ended up in the waterfalls.

The strength of the other photos in the book is their natural- ism, and if they have been enhanced, it is not obvious. In other words this particular section sticks out like a sore thumb, both in the table of contents and in the middle of the book.

The writing in the book is another story. It works well when McChesney shares his personal stories. He tells how he came to be a nature lover as a child due to his grandmother’s influence, and he tells us at times what the animals were doing when he photographed them.

I wish there had been more information about what it is like to be a wildlife photographer. Does he camp? How long does it take to find a wildcat to photograph? Is he always alone? What is this talented man’s story?

It would have been great to have an enlargement of himself with the bears right at the beginning of the book, instead of what seemed like an afterthought, on the back cover. A couple of poignant quotes from John Muir, one of his very distant relatives, strategically placed in the book would have been more powerful than numerous quotes placed helter skelter throughout, some of which weren’t so great (“Nature has always something rare to show us.”). Providing small amounts of information about some of the animals next to the animals’ pictures, much of which is obvious to most people, didn’t work well either. And the physical constructs of the book itself proved to be a detraction. What can I say? The first time I opened it and looked at it, it completely fell apart in my hands. Now I have so many calendar pages. So much again for things made in China.

In a perfect world, I would like to see these beautiful animal photographs in a hard cover edition with a full-sized enlargement of the “Blue Heron Fights Wild” on the inside cover because this particular photo is a work of art and would enhance the book. This book needed more outside critique before it went to press. Input from an artist or designer would have been invaluable. 

Culture, In Print joshua tree birds delphine lucas nature writers edition book review david mcchesney photographs animals

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