Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls by Paul Bannick (2016)

The photographs in this book are incredible.  These Jane Goodalls of the world who can sit and watch a creature for hours and hours are mighty laudable people and certainly have my respect and esteem. I can barely keep still for a ten minutes to meditate, let alone for six hours taking photographs of owls.  It's an ability I wish I possessed.  Is it something you can train yourself to do, practice makes perfect - or is it a superpower?  Is Paul Bannick an X-man?  It seems like a superpower to me.  Particularly because OWLS CAN FLY.  Paul Bannick, I assume, cannot fly.  Perhaps he builds blind perches in trees near where owls hang out.  Perhaps he has a drone (is that cheating) although I assume drones would be too noisy and freak owls the fuck out.

I'm having this moment in my life where I love wildlife photography, and have started following numerous wildlife photographers on Instagram.  I love birds.  I've only ever seen one owl in the wild, and I was so moved by it, I wrote a poem commemorating the moment.  It's one of my favorite poems I've ever written.

As much as I love the wildlife photography, I'm less enamored with the overall structure of this book.  Bannick is a decent writer; there is certainly nothing wrong with his prose.  In his well written introduction, he tells us that he is going to "follow North American owls through their four annual life phases."  He also says that he is going to "primarily focus" his lens and "narrative on four" species.  But I never really felt he stuck to that part of it, and consequently the book felt overlapping and meandering.  It was hard to follow.

I was also geographically annoyed by his use of "North America" excluding Mexico.  I'm sure there were legitimate reasons he didn't explore Mexican owls as well as US and Canadian owls, but then I think he should have dropped the term "North America."  Perhaps using United States and Canada was too much of a mouthful; but if I were a Mexican owl, I would have been pissed off.

So stay through to the end for the photographs, but don't expect too much from the text.  Don't get me wrong - there is a lot to learn here; but I think a different kind of editing would have made a better book.

Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American OwlsOwl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls by Paul Bannick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wildlife photographers and Jane Goodall-ists are like superheroes to me, and their main superpower, their X ability, is to be able to sit quietly and patiently for hours on end, watching, or waiting for the perfect shot. I can do many things well, but waiting and watching patiently has never been one of those things (I'm working on that). Add to this that owls can fly, and it's not like Paul Bannick can flap his wings and fly after them. So just thinking about what it takes to get even a blurry, out of focus shot of anything, let alone something that can fly, blows my mind. These photographs are incredible. You, too, will come away with a mind imprinted with "Wow" and "How did he TAKE THAT PICTURE?" and "owls are beautiful" and "Owls are cool as f***." Bannick's prose is strong and good too. The structure of this book bothered me the most; it meanders around between bird species and it's not always clear (unless you are an owl expert) which species he is talking about or which photos match the prose. If this drives you nuts, just look at the extraordinary pictures.

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