David Gulden – Nor Dread Nor Hope Attend. Photographs from the Plains of Africa

Review by Gerhard Clausing

The title of this magnificently photographed and beautifully printed photobook is drawn from a poem by Yeats that claims that while humans are afraid of death and look forward to an afterlife, non-human creatures do neither, i.e., the supposition is that ‘animals’ do not dread death nor hope for something better. Not so sure about that. I have seen strong survival tactics in other creatures, and maybe they are also dreaming about some paradise with more plentiful food and water, especially the African animals depicted here, whose environment is ever shrinking. And then again, perhaps it is a very human trait to dwell on what we do not have, rather than to count our (temporary) blessings.

David Gulden lives in Kenya and is a very dedicated environmentalist and animal observer, and a very gifted photographer as well. All this combined makes for an impressive and appealing project. The images of the major animals of the Kenyan plains are straight-forward and unaltered. Some are environmental overviews, while many are the kinds of environmental portraits that let us in on their personal stillness and heroic majesty.

I wish to show the timelessness of my subjects. • These wild beasts contain beauty and history. • One’s imagination must fill in the gaps of what remains unknown. — David Gulden

Gulden’s technique involves shooting from a very low angle, which elevates these giant animals and lets them tower above their world even more. The images are monochrome throughout; this allows him the creative use of dramatic skies and allows us to concentrate our gaze on the markings of furs and feathers, on gestures and behaviors, without the distraction of the usual familiar African colors. We can concentrate on shapes and interaction. The overall impact is to convey a kind of grand stillness just before the terrible storm that may one day cause all of this to survive only in zoos. It is what you don’t see—the encroaching societies with their economic pressures—that is important as well.

And indeed, the renowned Dr. Leakey in his afterword presents a dire prognosis: as the needs of an ever-growing population increase, the territory set aside as preserves keeps shrinking. He asks, “How can there be a future for wildlife under these circumstances?” The slim hope is that we will continue to see these magnificent creatures in nature and not only in these photobooks in the future.

The notes by Gulden that share insights on animal behavior and provide some hints regarding photographing animals in the wild are quite fascinating, as are the remarks on the history of animal images by Fiametta Rocco. Those of you who might like to see a second approach to animal protection in Africa, please check my review of Nick Brandt’s This Empty World.

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David Gulden – Nor Dread Nor Hope Attend. Photographs from the Plains of Africa       

Photographer:  David Gulden (born in New York; lives in Karen, Kenya)

Publisher:  Damiani, Bologna, Italy; © 2020 

Essays:  Fiametta Rocco, David Gulden, Dr. Richard E. Leakey

Language:  English

Hardback with illustrated cover; stitched binding; 72 pages, paginated, with 67 plates  and other illustrations; 33 x 32 cm (13 x 12.5 inches); printed in Italy

Photobook Designer:  Yolanda Cuomo Design, with Bonnie Briant

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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