Saturday, September 24, 2011

Himalayas, by Yoshikazu Shirakawa

Yoshikazu Shirakawa almost gets away with the faux pas of using an "s" to plural Himalaya with his book Himalayas. His enormous photo essay treats the entirety of the world's highest mountain chain as a set of distinct ranges, but he unfortunately sticks an "s" on the end of each of these as well. Otherwise, he might have made an interesting rhetorical case for multiple Himalaya. Picky authors, such as Louis C. Baume (and I suppose, myself), feel the need to point out that is no pluralizing the Abode of Snow---it is a single range, and it is almighty, even if you feel the need to argue about which mountains it describes (Karakorum? Tien Shan?). Shirakawa's work encompasses four parts of the Himalaya: Nepal, Punjab (Kashmir), Sikkim, and the Hindu Kush. He describes in his travel narratives the difficulty of creating a photo book encompassing the entirety of the range when there were so many political restrictions on where he could go and what he could photograph in the late 1960s. His perseverance served him well, however, and he got not only access but encouragement in his photography and travel in Nepal during the 1965-1969 ban on foreign visitation to the outlying areas (including the use of the King's private plane and trekking access to Everest, Annapurna, and Kanchenjunga), air access to the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush, and permission to enter Kashmir. He was thwarted, however, in his attempts to enter Garwhal, northern Pakistan, and Bhutan. His need to work on a tight schedule and a tight budget often place his life in danger, such as trekking to Everest Base Camp without proper acclimatization or flying at dizzying heights with little or no oxygen.

His photographs are a work of contrasts. Whether serrated ridgelines set against ethereal clouds or his posterized Sin City-esque black and whites, Shirakawa's images evoke both the alien harshness and natural beauty of the Himalaya's extreme environment. He possesses the rare gift, like Sella and possibly Rowell, of evoking emotion in a pure mountainscape, such as the lonely motherhood of Ama Dablam or the exuberant heights of Sharphu. The English translation of his work comes in two editions, a massive 1986 edition that includes a testimonial by the King of Nepal and a smaller quarto-sized edition from 1977. The layouts are quite different, and they actually have a few distinct photographs in each.

Everest is represented is several photographs, in Kyuya Fukada's essay, and Edmund Hillary's introduction. Hillary evokes the spirit of Mallory in his reasoning for climbing these high mountains and our respect for them. Fukada gives a short history of climbing the mountain and mentions that Naomi Muira (who ascended the mountain in 1970) presented him a summit stone. The photographs of Everest are taken from the Nepal side, with an image from Kala Pattar, a dramatic image of the Khumbu Icefall taken from Pumori, a photo of the South Wall of Lhotse, and couple from further afield. They are actually not the most evocative images of this essay, but are still some of the most striking photos of Mount Everest nonetheless---a telling indication of Shirakawa's talent. Enjoy!

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