Book Review: Polished Publishing, Or Coffee Table Craft

April 30, 2015



Reflection by Heinrich van den Berg  


Heinrich van den Berg’s latest collection begins its agreeable assault on your senses before you even open it. The cover – all three square feet of it; it’s a big book – features a close-up of half of the face of a lion, more or less life size and embossed so that the individual hairs of his mane stand out to the touch and the pupil of his tablespoon-sized eye, smooth and ink-black sucks you into a void.

This attention to detail and polished publishing approach set the bar for the rest of the volume, which features some astounding images – notable for both the technical excellence required to capture the creatures that are the photographs’ protagonists in the positions they’re in and for the keen eye needed to spot the approach of each explosive moment and prepare to be in place to make the most of the opportunity.

Van den Berg can’t really match the arresting impact of his large-scale photographs with the words he provides to accompany them, but he makes a fine effort, producing little nuggets of dry wit and poetry that add a hint of colour to the stark black and white layouts of the first half of the book.

The second half of Reflection contains full-colour images, closer to the usual coffee table book offering (but for the afore-mentioned craft).

The price – very nearly R1 000 – may scare off some prospective buyers, as it’s just as easy to flip through the pages quickly and enjoy the book as it is to pore over each individual photograph for 10 minutes, marvelling at the immaculate composition.

Consider, though, that the same price would seem pretty reasonable for a well-framed glossy picture identical to one of those in Reflection. Think of it that way, and you’ll begin to see the book as art, worth considering again and again in order to discover new details, rather than as just another shelf filler.