Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review #34: BEAR PORTRAITS by Jill Greenberg

Publisher:  Little, Brown & Company
Category:  Photography
Format:  Hardcover Book
Publish Date:  11/3/2009
Price:  $26.99/$32.99
ISBN:  9780316031882
Pages:  104
Size:  8" x 10"

Description (from the publisher):
A top celebrity portrait photographer, Jill Greenberg has a unique ability to coax powerful emotions out of her subjects -whether human or animal. Her portraits of bears, collected here for the first time, surprise and engage. We encounter cubs as cute as a child's Teddy, grizzlies that look like they might swallow you whole, and Polar bears seated in Sphinx-like tranquility.

Full-grown brown bears, grizzlies, black bears, Polar bears, and bear cubs are photographed on location against a portrait backdrop. The poses and facial expressions are at turns oddly comedic, pensive, terrifying, and sometimes unexpectedly human. Alive with Greenberg's signature lighting and seen through the unique perspective of her lens, these startling bear portraits bring us face to face with our fears and fantasies.

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars; Highly recommended.


I'll be honest and say that when I first flipped though this book, I was downright horrified! All I saw were jaws and claws, and they were terrifying. I'd never seen such detailed closeups of a grizzly's mouth before. I shut the book quickly and thought, there's something odd about those photos - are those bears stuffed? I didn't want to think about it, and I was very disappointed. I'd been thrilled to have the opportunity to review this collection of bear portraits by Jill Greenberg. I wasn't familiar with her work, but who doesn't like a giant cuddly teddy bear?  I was reluctant to look at the book again, but I had committed to post a review so I knew I'd eventually need to take a closer look.

A couple of days later, I sat down and braced myself, literally, to look into the jaws of death. Fully prepared to be able to count cavities, I reminded myself that these were only pictures and they couldn't bite! I started with the introduction and was pleased to find out that, contrary to my previous thought, these bears were all alive and well and not taxidermied specimens. As it turns out, Greenberg herself thought that the bears didn't look alive when she first examined her initial polaroids. Many of the portraits have that effect because Greenberg photographed the bears indoors using artificial light and a portrait backdrop. Once you settle down with the book, the illusion of unreality falls away and the bears "come to life" as their personalities are showcased. As I slowly turned the pages on my second perusal, I wondered, where are all those really scary shots I saw the first time I looked at this book?

Well, they were still there, but they weren't nearly as numerous as I had first thought. This time around, I found much more to charm, delight, and intrigue me.  Pictures of the cubs are just adorable. What I hadn't expected was the playfulness and range of emotion displayed by the adult bears.
On this second and closer examination of the portraits, the bears took on a quality of humaness as the photos captured looks and poses of coyness, flirtatiousness, brooding, and calculation. Charmed as I was, I came to appreciate the inclusion of the more ferocious photos. As much as I wanted to humanize these bears and think that I could relate to them, they are dangerous, carnivorous creatures. I think you have to look at the bears in all their grand magnificence to appreciate what a gift it is to have this glimpse at their existence.

Jill Greenberg has done an outstanding job with this collection. I highly recommended it. Photographers will appreciate the quality of the photos and the techniques that define Greenberg's signature style. Bear and nature lovers will enjoy the range of moods captured forever of these wild creatures. And any thoughtful group of people would surely enjoy conversations on art, environmentalism, or animal conservation that would be sparked by these provocative photographs. I've enjoyed this book immensely, and I'm so glad to have taken a long second look at it.

Jill Greenberg regularly shoots advertising and celebrity portrait photography for clients such as Dreamworks, Sony Pictures, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Time, and Entertainment Weekly. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband, children, and dog, Scooter.

Jill Greenberg also has published the book MONKEY PORTRAITS.


bermudaonion said...

I just flipped through this in the bookstore today and I was amazed at the beautiful photographs.

Laughing Stars aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

The photography looks amazing!

Zibilee said...

Wow! What a thoughtful and compelling review! I really think I want to take a closer look at this book because the small sample of pictures that you included are just beautiful! This book would definitely be a great conversation piece at my house, so I will be looking out for it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

istockphoto collar permitting grantedmost images alongwith nutshell patel potent codswallop willreflect
semelokertes marchimundui

Diane said...

Just wanted to stop by to say Happy Holidays to you an yours. Thanks for being a loyal blogging buddy.

Jeane said...

It looks like a beautiful book. I think I'd like the monkey one, too! Look at that face on the cover!

Bea said...

I want to take a closer look at this book because the pictures you included looks so amazing.