Bank Holiday Monday book review – The Keartons by John Bevis

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I haven’t taken a photograph of a bird for c35 years so nature photography isn’t my passion. This may be because my father was a keen, amateur landscape photographer and sons tend either fully to absorb or shun their father’s interests. But I do remember, perhaps before reaching teenage years, going with Dad to an exhibition of Kearton photographs which included, and this is what I remember, a photograph of their hide which was made from a stuffed ox.

Richard and Cherry Kearton, brothers, took the first photograph of a bird’s nest including a clutch of eggs, in 1892.  That was far from the last of their ‘firsts’ as photographers.

They are regarded as founders of the discipline of nature photography and this book, despite showing that they cut corners and bent the truth a bit, cements that title and their reputation.

They were creatures of their age, sons of a part-time gamekeeper and themselves keen to bump off a few species, they were happy to meddle with nature a bit, loved to have pets (including adders) and did not wholly limit their shooting to photography.

That stuffed ox was one of their first portable hides and delivered good photographs of a Skylark nest on one of its first outings.  I learned it had a rather brief working life, May-July 1900.  A portable sheep and a portable tree were also in the repertoire.

This book takes us back to a different age where photography often involved laborious expeditions with lots of kit – cameras, lenses, tripods, film, chemicals and the odd stuffed animal – but also where everything was to be learned and done for the first time.  This is a long way from digital photography with massive lenses.

I liked this book a lot. You certainly don’t have to be a nature photographer, or even a nature-lover to get a lot from this well-told tale of two trail-blazing brothers.  It is well-written and well-illustrated with the Kearton’s photographs. If you look at the back cover of the book you will be surprised by the birds perching on the wrist of the outstretched hand on the front cover.

 

The Keartons: inventing nature photography by John Bevis is published by Uniformbooks.

 

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review.

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

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3 Comments

  1. Michael May says:

    Love the bit about being on expeditions with lots of kit: I'm generally loaded down like a Moroccan tram.

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  2. ROBERT INCE says:

    One of my most treasured books is Wild Nature's Ways by Richard Kearton. This beautiful, leather bound, gilt edged book with marbled end papers was a literature prize awarded to my mother at her school in the 1930's. She gave it to me in the 1950's.

    The photographs in the book, whether of birds, butterflies, moths and spiders delighted me as a child and they still do as I enter my eighth decade. Their photographs of bird behaviour would be admired by the most ardent photographer in the twenty-first century.

    I have nothing but admiration for the Kearton's with their heavy cameras with glass plates. They would have experienced many difficulties as they abseiled down cliffs or ensconced in their stuffed Ox on a hot day in summer in pursuit of their craft.

    The lovely part is their images have endured and their books will hopefully delight future generations of nature lovers.

    I will certainly buy a copy of The Keartons: inventing nature photography by John Bevis.

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