Sunday book review – 100 Things that Caught My Eye by Chris Packham

indexI’ve spent some time with Chris Packham this year. We both talked at the Hampshire Ornithological Society AGM on my birthday in March, and chatted about Hen Harriers on that day and wound each other up on the subject. We stood together as part of the ‘Sodden 570’ on Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District on 10 August and then spent time together at the Bird Fair the next weekend. We both spoke and agreed with each other at the World Land Trust Controversial Conservation event this year too.

So I can hardly be said to be unbiased about anything that Chris does but I can’t say that I know him well.  And so I thought I ought to buy his new book on photography and see what I could learn about him.

Now I am not that interested in photography – partly, I think, because my father was a keen amateur photographer of landscapes and buildings and that probably meant that I was bound to take another pathway.

When I see something amazing I want to look at it and see it, not look through the lens of a camera at it.  This is particularly true of nature where I don’t want some contraption getting between me and the nature.  I’ll always remember the sound of cameras clicking in Yellowstone NP as a Grizzly Bear with cubs came walking towards us. I could cut out the 200 people who were close to me but less easily the sound of 199 camera shutters whirring away. And I am getting tired of sitting in a bird hide and being deafened by the same noises – I’d vote for segregating hides, train style, into ‘quiet’ and ‘cameras and kids’ sections.

This book has 100 images from across the globe – all continents are represented except Australasia. Some are arresting images – a Monarch butterfly on a gun in Mexico, dead moths in a stream in Scotland and a grotty shack in Texas – and some didn’t do much for me. However, I am sure that your look through the book would find you stopping at different pages and for different reasons.

I found myself reading all of the accompanying text because where I liked an image the words made me like it even more and where it hadn’t done much for me, the words warmed me to the image and I understood more about why it had been taken.  Added to which, Chris tells a good story and has a great line in self-deprecation as far as photography is concerned.

The images contain more human nature than nature. And there is quite a lot of death in here too – the last resting places of people, moths, whales, prions, cows and trees as well as some dead buildings, dead cars and dead planes. But many of the people have smiles.

So, this isn’t a picture book. It’s an ideas book and a storybook – with pictures. At least that’s what it is to me. There’s a lot of Chris Packham in here – his views, his turn of phrase, too many photos of dogs, and a great eye for beauty.  And did I learn anything about Chris? I forgot to try to do that, because as with any good book, this one takes you somewhere and teaches you more about yourself.

Did I learn anything about photography? Definitely not – I am beyond that. One of the images I liked the best is apparently the worst in the book. Oh well! Not for me it wasn’t.

And I keep going back to that shack in Texas for the image and the story behind it.

100 things that Caught My Eye by Chris Packham is published by Blink Publishing.

Chris Packham said of A Message from Martha, by Mark Avery, ‘…this is a book that everyone who cares about the natural world must read now‘ which was very kind of him!





7 Replies to “Sunday book review – 100 Things that Caught My Eye by Chris Packham”

  1. I bought this lovely book as soon as it was published and I’m not a photographer but I can thoroughly recommend it.

    In his introduction Chris says the book shouldn’t be read from beginning to end but dipped into and a picture and caption considered at a time and this is the way I am enjoying this beautiful book.

    From one of the ” Sodden 570 ” !

  2. Mark I’m with you on the whole camera thing. I did try a camera out thinking it might enhance my birding experience, but instantly found out it actually ruined it. I found it made me quite frustrated and grumpy. My wife also felt the same. Luckily the retailer took it back and gave me a full refund, phew!
    For me the joy of birding and nature watching is about living in and completely experiencing the moment. I’ll leave photography to the pros as I find that my memories are a million times better than any picture I could take.

  3. For me, and perhaps for many others, snaps rather than technically brilliant photos are the thing. That largely rules out my chances of award winning pics of mating humming birds (not that they are all that abundant in Bromley) but for decent panoramas or close ups of mosses, bugs, spiders and flies – which I can then ZOOM to better appreciate and understand, use in support of a biological record or help with identification (e.g. via iSpot), a modern camera adds hugely to my enjoyment and my ability to enthuse others.

    The main wonder is how Chris was able to stop at just a hundred things.

    1. As Steve W concludes, a lot of us simply seek to experience nature and use our cameras to remind us of that by way of a record or memory and yes sometimes they can help in identification.

      That is good and valid without becoming the primary focus (no pun intended) just as we can marvel at the technical expertise of people like Chris Packham and others.

      I wonder if this year I will manage to ‘shoot’ a Hen Harrier as part of my local lowland landscape or if the ‘upland grousers’ have done away with the birds who winter here with us on lowland moors?

  4. I enjoyed your review of a book I have waiting enticingly on my bookshelf, especially as I feel the same as you about photography too often getting in the way of experiencing something (unless that’s me rationalising being rubbish at it) and sometimes finding the clicking intrusive.

    I disagree strongly though about segregating bird hides to shunt off ‘cameras and kids’ as if those two are somehow similar.

Comments are closed.