One of the key problems for a book such as Blue Ice’s stunning collection of Antarctic images is that while a little penguin goes a long way, with page after page after page of chinstraps, emperor, gentoo, et al. the reader is left wondering if anything else at all exists on the continent. The rest of the Antarctic’s wildlife play a distinct second fiddle.
A book such as this can take a reader on a true journey, educating, illuminating and captivating in equal measures. The other problem facing Blue Ice is that it’s more akin to a random whirl of hyperkinetic jumps from one astonishing image to another without any narrative thread to link your progress. Partly this is a fault of an unclear focus as to what the book is trying to achieve. Introductory sections on both the geological nature of the landscape and the history of Antarctic exploration suggest a focus on the dramatic structures of the continent itself – icebergs and floes, glaciers, ice shelves and the like. As it turns out, the majority of Bernasconi’s collection is of the wildlife to be found (mostly of the penguin variety), with the dramatic scenery reduced to being just that – background material. This is understandable given Bernasconi’s wildlife photography credentials, but it feels somewhat misleading to present as one thing but deliver something else entirely.
Nonetheless, the photography itself is absolutely stunning. Compositions are crisp and assured, the subject matter is never anything less than obliging to the lens and Bernasconi seems to have been blessed with absolutely perfect atmospheric and lighting conditions at all times. Ultimately, Blue Ice is a first-rate collection of photography in search of a better structured book. Providing you know what you’re getting, it’s perfect dip-in, dip-out fare.
BLUE ICE by Alex Bernasconi; Papadakis, £30 (hardback)
This review was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.