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Book Review: Wild & Precious


Book Review Wild & Precious By Jesse Burke Reviewed by George Slade As the father of two daughters I admire the activities and the relationship Jesse Burke has fostered in life and chronicled in photographed. I also respect Burke for his personal engagement with wilderness. This devotion makes it easier for him to nurture an appreciation of nature in his children (one, Clover, who is featured in Wild & Precious, and two other daughters).

Wild and PreciousBy Jesse Burke
Daylight Books, 2015.
 
Wild and Precious
Reviewed by George Slade

Wild and Precious
Photographs by Jesse Burke
Daylight Books, Hillsborough, USA, 2015. In English. 128 pp., 60 color illustrations, 13x9". 


Selected as one of the Best Books of 2015 by Melanie McWhorter

As the father of two daughters I admire the activities and the relationship Jesse Burke has fostered in life and chronicled in photographed. I also respect Burke for his personal engagement with wilderness. This devotion makes it easier for him to nurture an appreciation of nature in his children (one, Clover, who is featured in Wild & Precious, and two other daughters). Despite our convention of referring to Earth as mother, and apart from the occasional Cheryl Strayed, Sacagawea, or Dorothy Molter (the last non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota, also known as the Root Beer Lady), there are relatively few female role models in the wild. Girls should be at home in the wilderness, no less so than boys.

Wild and PreciousBy Jesse BurkeDaylight Books, 2015.

Burke has an able and mostly willing accomplice in Clover. This girl, whose age seems to wax and wane through the course of the book, has a Sphinx-like face that often veers toward toughness. When she sleeps, her face softens, and I sense a father’s tenderness in the intimate yet respectful embrace of a sleeper portrayed. In general, though, Clover plants herself (or does Burke plant himself?) at a distance, in the deep space of a scene. Once in a while a reader might need to invoke some Waldo-spotting abilities. And sometimes, as far as I can tell, Clover is absent, suggesting the backdrop against which father and daughter adventure.

Wild and PreciousBy Jesse BurkeDaylight Books, 2015.

One moment cracks the book’s contemplative atmosphere wide open — an image titled “Call of the Wild” in which the girl, clearly growing into double digits, shatters the reverent mood with an open-mouthed, eyes-squeezed-tight pose that begs for a soundtrack. Clover’s camouflage shirt in this photograph resembles the mottled cloth binding of the book itself, calling forth an unexpected relationship between Burke’s book effort and this disruptive moment. What hadn’t we known about this inscrutable young woman? How does camouflage relate to the overall undertaking? (Another rash of camo appears on an eye patch, affixed on a much younger Clover who might otherwise have been a Bouguereau cherub.)

Wild and PreciousBy Jesse BurkeDaylight Books, 2015.

This question remains with me (along with another one, somewhat unrelated, of whether Clover ever smiles). In so many of his images, Burke’s lens holds Clover at a distance, in context, whether in a ferry, a wintry, wind-blown cornfield, or next to various bodies of water. But there are moments when the camera zooms in on her. One, when she is injured, as in the eye patch photo just noted and a strikingly vivid bloody nose image that brings to mind a Sally Mann photo or two. And again, in extraordinarily picturesque moments, when her head is enwrapped in a net, adorned with a butterfly, or seen in the middle of that soundless scream, what Walt Whitman might have identified as a “barbaric yawp.”

Wild and PreciousBy Jesse BurkeDaylight Books, 2015.

Seen in such settings, Clover seems supernaturally close, less a part of the wide, wild world than an unsettling extension of ourselves. The narrowed attention posits her as a photographic object, not unlike the objects depicted and reproduced in a couple of page spreads. Father and daughter hold natural items — snails, a baby bunny, a skull with antlers, driftwood, various small reptiles and fauna — in their open palms. The embrace is gentle and temporary, not unlike that a father employs with his young children, grasping them lightly, with love and respect, then freeing them to follow their independent course in their proper place.

Wild and PreciousBy Jesse BurkeDaylight Books, 2015.

Wild & Precious is a lovely, moving book, with compelling undercurrents and absorbing textures. For those of us who have been parents of young children, it is probably impossible to read this book without recalling the phases and landscapes our own offspring have traversed. Perhaps Clover’s distance, back where we can’t see her specifics, allows us to project our own parental memories into the scene. She could be one of our children, finding her place in the natural world.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant. He can be found online at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/


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