Hello and welcome to my Sunday Review. Every week I read great wildlife and nature books, see engrossing websites and hear wonderful new music – this is my chance to bring you all the best I’ve experienced – every Sunday.
This week I’ve been busy reading, and two books in particular have caught my eye.
Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness
Bird Therapy is just out in paperback after a successful hardback launch last year. Joe is someone with a compelling story to tell. That’s brought home very quickly in the agonising first few pages where he tries to kill himself. What follows is a revealing journey of self-discovery as Joe begins to address some of the deep seated emotional problems he has, together with trying to change his problematic behaviours. He manages to achieve that in large part through bird watching. What starts as a distraction becomes an all-absorbing passion. What starts as a survey and website becomes a book and a collection of resources.
“In paying attention to these finer details, I noticed that I was finding out more about myself. The calmness I was experiencing was going home and going to work with me. I was starting to feel more relaxed with life in general and had found the right place to unpack my worries. A pattern was emerging. The logic and consistency of birds makes perfect sense to me; they represent freedom, in their ability to fly and escape. Several survey respondents echoed that nature made sense to them too.”
Joe is clearly a man who has suffered considerably. What is so admirable is that from a position of utter desperation he has carved out a wonderful niche. Here he is introducing himself:
I was delighted when Joe made it onto Winterwatch with Chris Packham. Suicide remains the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK. He was able to talk about how he started on a path to recovery using birdwatching.
The Photographs of Paul Nash
My favourite photographer wasn’t actually a photographer. He took fewer photographs in his lifetime than I can put on a single memory card in my camera. He was given a fixed lens camera by his wife and only ever used that one camera and lens. His photography was often simply a way of visual note-taking. Which photographer is it? It’s the landscape painter Paul Nash.
Here’s what you might think of if you’ve heard of Paul Nash:
Paul Nash became a painter purely to avoid the horror of becoming an accountant. He was celebrated as a war artist but was an adaptable painter, writer, reviewer and raconteur. He was at the cutting edge of painting in the 1930s, mixing surrealism with his love of landscape, inspired by another favourite of mine, painter Georgio de Chirico.
His paintings often featured the Wittenham Clumps, a small hill or mound with a few sparse trees on, and he painted the seasons and nature, often in subtle colours.
Informal Beauty is a book featuring Paul Nash’s photographs. Many were never intended for publication. Most are reproduced quite small. They are often presented with no sense of their context, and sometimes without knowledge of their subject. Why, then do I find them so compelling? Here’s a double-page spread with two of Nash’s images. These are from Monster Field, which became an important part of his painted work.
When I was at school I used to hang around the local art gallery so much that the curator got to chat with me. She lent me a copy of Outline, the unfinished biography of Paul Nash and I adored reading about his life. In it he makes clear how he sees the landscape as alive and how inanimate objects have a personality which he embodies in his work. The photographs show ancient trees, standing stones, strange juxtapositions and eerie still lifes. Even the occasional portraits are epic, stylised and moving despite the simple camera and informal portrayal.
Informal Beauty is a tiny, curious insight into the visual perception of one of the most important painters of English landscapes. It’s a book I go back to again and again, attempting to decipher the mystery and beauty contained within its pages. It’s photography-as-sketchbook by a master at work.
That’s it for this week.
I’ll be back with more reviews of things you might adore next Sunday.