keleton Coast by Amy Schoeman is a wonderfully thoughtful and timely reflection on the importance of conservation and wilderness in helping us become honest, human, modest, courageous and wise. Everyone will learn something of value by reading this book, whether their primary interest lies with conservation or with wilderness.
Amy is a wise photographer of landscape with a love/hate relationship with colour; she understands that a lot of colour can be too much of a good thing. While some photographers, particularly those who shoot in digital and then engage vigorously in post-production work, derive huge enjoyment from the parade of colours in a landscape, this variety of hues can distract the eye and play havoc with the composition. Amy tends to limit her palette, rendering a calmer, more reflective mood through simple compositions containing only a few basic elements. Often her articulation of space takes viewers for a walk through the scene. This is done by guiding the viewer’s eye, using cues such as lines, strong foregrounds and frames.
The great landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, who left humankind with many iconic images, once remarked in an interview with Pat Booth: My last word is that it all depends on what you visualise. Like Adams, Amy Schoeman continued to develop her own personal philosophy of photography. She, too, believes that the true task of the photographer is first to conceptualise, then actually to capture and finally to reproduce as nearly as possible the emotional as well as the objective realities. The scanning of her transparencies and the quality of her prints by Silvertone International based in Johannesburg, South Africa, do justice to this philosophy.
As a landscape photographer, Amy writes: ‘ For the photographer the attraction of the Skeleton Coast lies essentially in its landscape. It is this aspect that is primarily portrayed by the photographs in this book.’ Universally landscape photography has struggled more than other genres to find its own voice. Unable to tear itself away from the literal, it sometimes seems to have little freedom to be subjective or to be used to express a personal vision. To her credit, Amy has transcended this more limited vocabulary widely associated with landscape photography. Her work bristles with creativity and she succeeds admirably in turning scenery into interpretative statements, and hence, she has built a personal style that is stylistically consistent. Many of her photographs capture images that are remarkable in their detail (such as those of mica and granite slabs), while others depict landscapes that are minimal in their content, giving such images a poetic quality, cut back to their essentials.
Originally published in 1984, the last reprint and substantive update of the book under the aegis of Venture Publications, Windhoek, further consolidated the author’s reputation as one of the most sensitive and eminent writers on an ecologically fragile and spiritual corner of Africa. Her description of the arresting beauty of the Skeleton Coast unlocks a rich vault of fascinating material and achieves a celestial quality quite uncommon in print anywhere, while some of the photographs of the breathtaking landscape, all shot in analogue mode, give it an ethereal quality.