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Big and Emotional

Big three swimming polar bears
Polar bear family (Amos Nachoum)
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BOOK REVIEW

Big: A Photographic Album of the World’s Largest Animals,
by Marko Dimitrijevic & Amos Nachoum

Great wildlife photography can stir primal emotions in the viewer, and while the back-story to an image can often help us to fully understand it, at its purest there is little need for words.

That’s the premise of the new book Big, which largely dispenses with on-page captions unless some brief explanation is considered vital, and categorises its 180 plates not by species but by how they make the photographer – and, at one remove, the viewer – feel.  

Well-known among scuba divers for his spectacular photography, exploratory nature and willingness to share his Big Animals expeditions with anyone who can afford to tag along, Israeli diver Amos Nachoum has co-authored this impressive book with mainly-topside Swiss photographer Marko Dimitrijevic. 

Nachoum’s shot of a leopard seal facing off with a penguin won him the title of World Nature Photographer of the Year recently, and is one of the many underwater highlights included in the book. 

blue whale
Blue whale at rest (Amos Nachoum)
Sardine Run
A sardine’s last run (Amos Nachoum)

Some of his most iconic work, also depicted in Big, is of swimming polar bears, and taking these shots on scuba was a unique feat, the difficulty of which any diver will appreciate. But as was made clear in the 2019 biographical documentary Picture Of His Life, Amos Nachoum came up the hard way and relishes nothing so much as a challenge.

Leafing through this book, you find yourself marvelling at nature at its biggest and rawest, whether the animals happen to live on dry land or below the water’s surface.

The underwater shots often pivot on unusual angles and perspectives – you think you’ve already seen whale sharks captured every which way, for example, but now it turns out that you haven’t.

There are blue whales shown with divers and boats to convey their incredible scale; marine iguanas (I particularly like the one in profile with a sand lizard sitting on its head); hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and reef sharks; humpback whales with playful calves; a leopard seal’s cavernous maw; sunfish; Fat Albert the Nile crocodile and, my favourite surface shot, a blissful orca pod passing by in the moonlight.

great white shark
Smiling shark (Amos Nachoum)

Many of the images reflect face-to-face encounters – momentary exchanges between human and wild creature. Emotions that would have been too fleeting to analyse at the time emerge when played back through the captured image. 

The chapter headings – Awe & Gratitude; Respect & Fear; Astonishment & Surprise; Love & Enchantment; Achievement & Excitement – do feel a bit arbitrary, because the photographers could have fitted so many of these images comfortably into any of their chosen categories, with no argument from the viewer. It hardly matters.

I have concentrated on the marine life here, with apologies to Dimitrijevic, but he too is a conservationist and clearly a highly accomplished photographer. He presents captivating, memorable shots of bears (including the vanishingly rare spirit bear), big cats, gorillas, flamingos, wildebeest – and I particularly liked the perfectly positioned three giraffes.

The short chapter intros and sparse captions, in English and German, ensure that the visual flow is not interrupted, but at the back of the book is a key identifying photographer, title and location for each image. Big costs £50 but you’re paying for a classy production – and it would make a fine gift for any nature-lover.

teNeues Books, ISBN: 9783961713851, Hardback, 256pp, 34x27cm, £50

Big cover

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