Visions of grandeur
Review by Klaus Hueneke of Harry Nankin’s book Range Upon Range: The Australian Alps published in The Canberra Times newspaper, p 9, December 13, 1987
I am envious, overawed, critical, speechless and grateful – all at once. Harry Nankin has done what I have wanted to do for years – publish an evocative photographic hymn on the Australian Alps. Only his is more refined, and more expensive than my vision. At close to $50 this is a book for connoisseurs. But as shown by the insatiable demand for Olegas Truchanas’s masterpiece, there are a lot of aficionados of mountains, of wilderness and of moments of great beauty. They will be easily swayed.
The beauty in this book is everywhere – in the delicate typeface, the precise four-plate printing, the cryptic lines of poetry, the layout of the long-lasting jacket and, above all, in the almost-edible 73 full-colour plates. My eyes and heart have fed hungrily and mightily. They have imbibed haloed granite tors, ice-encrusted spider gums, smiling alpine sunrays, lazy meandering streams (so nice to camp next to), finely dusted cornices and backlit ranges sometimes ten layers and beyond. The essence is there, distilled and refined to perfection like a drop of Chanel or a Fred Williams triptych.
In short, this is one of the best executed books of wilderness photography yet encountered. If there are weaknesses they are omissions in the text and some repetitive images. On the NSW side of the high country Nankin has not mentioned the writings of Alan Andrews, Ted Winter, Betty Casey-Litchfield or Keith Hancock. There are a few too many shots of blurred falling water (I long to see water as depicted in Japanese woodcuts) and some similar photographs taken near Blue Lake on the same occasion. A trip or two into the Grey mare Range, down the Yarrangobilly River or into the Cave Creek Gorge would have given an even broader representation of the high country. Many spots of grandeur and exquisite detail are located at elevations well below Nankin’s high tops.
Among many who have turned to capturing the Alps with large format or plate cameras – and I am thinking not only of Canberrans like Pieter Arriens, Graeme Handley and Colin Totterdell – Nankin is the only one to have taken the plunge, the very big plunge beyond annual calendars or postcards or framed prints in a gallery. At production costs of $100,000 he has jumped with both feet (with a little help from John Brownlie of Algona). I trust it is on to solid granite and not into ethereal mist. Sales of other books on the mountains suggest that people will make sure it’s not the latter. The mountains, as ever, wait.