The world's greatest wonders

Two of the finest wildlife photographers in the world have new books out this year: Jungles, by Frans Lanting, and The Living Wild, by Art Wolfe. Both men are masters of their trade, having dedicated their lives to capturing on film the large and small creatures that share our planet. Both are advocates and eloquent spokesmen - through words and pictures - for the protection of wildlife and wild places.

"Jungles" is an indepth look at one climate zone and the myriad critters, including insects, and vegetation that thrive on that land.

Gathered over 20 years of work, "Jungles" takes the reader to tropical rainforests from the Congo to the Andes in Lanting's signature style. His photographs not only show us what the forest looks like, they let us feel its pulse.

"While the essence of photography is to show, jungles hide, or at best, suggest," Lanting writes. So the Dutch-born photographer shares his "impressions" of the jungle, "the feeling of the forest rather than the science of it."

Through motion, detail, color, light, texture, and composition, his images move and astonish. The book is cleverly laid out with several surprising juxtapositions, including a blue and yellow macaw beak next to the snout of a panther chameleon, or a Brazilian jaguar next to a pheasant's plumage.

The excellent pacing of this book takes us from vistas of misty forests to an intimate moment between a mother and child orangutan to raindrops on a leaf. Many of the beautifully reproduced photos run over two-page spreads.

Wolfe's 42nd book, "The Living Wild," casts a wider net to encompass all the world's diversity, from the poles to deserts and mountains. He focuses on the "spectacular" animals such as polar bears, gorillas, pandas, and elephants.

His overriding message is habitat preservation. "After all," Wolfe writes, "an animal without habitat is simply a curiosity biding time to its extinction."

When possible, Wolfe used a wide-angle lens during his three-year odyssey for this book. That means he needed to get within three to six feet of his subjects. (Always, Wolfe notes, he uses common sense and respect for the animals when deciding which lenses to use. Inevitably, some images required a telephoto lens.) The book is laid out horizontally, which allows the wide-angle shots great display space.

The wide-angle photograph of black-browed albatrosses at South Georgia Island is wonderful. Wolfe took it during a lunch break that was interrupted by the curious birds, who landed right in front of him and nibbled at his camera, perhaps interested in their own reflection.

Essays by five premier conservationists, including Jane Goodall and Richard Dawkins, break up the chapters and detail the threats to our world's wildlife, but also outline actions to reverse the seemingly inevitable trends.

Melanie Stetson Freeman is a Monitor staff photographer.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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