August 22, 2005

Celebrating Tamed Nature

The bookshelf in the hotel room at Gualala has -- amongst the by-the-yard Readers Digest collections -- a bunch of books like a 1985 editon of The Macintosh Bible, Fundamental Accounting Principles, John Dean's Blind Ambition... and on the side table, one of those great old 1960's Time-Life books, this one on The Plains States, an engaging and idiosyncratic look at a time and place I know almost nothing about. The only Black faces are in a group shot of a Kansas City Jazz get-together. Plus there's an intriguing old book in Danish, "Endnu Level Eventyret" ("på rejse med Jens Bjerre"), which surveys the natural and human world through Bjerre's eyes, with a two-page spread on the then-new Snowy Mountains scheme, and (naturally) a page or two on the Opera House. I can't help it -- I spend hours poring through both books looking at the unnatural high-contrast colours of the photos (very Ektachrome and Kodakchrome...), the optimistic text, the almost complete dominance of old-tech, the general invisibility of the environment, the celebration of tamed nature. The Time-Life book has an entire chapter on the Plains Indians, a sad and typical story, with some astonishingly good black and white social realist photos; there's one of a young girl helping her father carry wood on a cart -- I want to know what happened to her...


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