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Book Bag: Chasing the Mountain Light Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

18 October 2022

Even at first glance, David Neilson's Chasing the Mountain Light exhibits the hallmarks of a classic art book.

The nearly 200 black-and-white images on the oversize 12x12.75-inch pages are printed in double black duotone. The typeface is no less than Bruce Rogers's Centaur. We have rarely seen such glorious endpapers either. And, surprise, this momentous tome of hand-sewn signatures, a rarity these days, lies flat when you open it.

It's also noteworthy that the author himself did the design, image preparation and prepress. While some pages (like the Table of Contents) suggest that wasn't all together the best idea, it nevertheless brings innovative layouts like the seven_vertical_ double-page images that show off the heights that captivated Neilson first as a climber and then as a photographer.

Neilson has made multiple expeditions to South West Tasmania, Patagonia and Antarctica to published photographic art books about each of those places. He has also carried his camera into the Karakoram mountains in Pakistan and the Alps of Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.

And the images he presents in this sumptuous tome, just a sampling of which are shown below, are worthy of those adventures. The double spreads are not used just for horizontal images but verticals as well, which can be quite stunning.

Details. Mouse over or tap for captions.

But to call this merely an art book is to do it an injustice. It's also his memoir, in the tradition of Ansel Adams's Autobiography. A rich visual experience you follow through a monologue of reminiscences.

As such the images on the very first pages of the book are of lower quality than the rest of the book. They're older. They're family shots. They're halftones from consumer quality photography.

But they're where the story starts and it would have been a shame to omit them on the grounds they were not high resolution images.

Even though Neilson's images can take your breath away, it's the story that pulls them all together, mountain by mountain. There are both stunning mountainscapes and details of the wildlife he found living there that communicate a sense of place.

Neilson ends his memoir on the South Coast of Tasmania with an admonition worth repeating here:

Wild and untrammeled country significantly enriches the human spirit. Without such places, future generations will become increasingly detached from the natural world. We owe it to the grandchildren of our grandchildren to leave a healthy and sustainable planet where they too may be inspired by natural environments, including the South Coast of Tasmania.

As he implies, becoming detached from the natural world depletes the human spirit. But a book like this reminds us what we are missing. We don't think Neilson would mind at all if, your mind wandering as you go through his book, your gaze shifts to the window where the light is coming from and you feel the urge to take a walk.

Chasing the Mountain Light by David Neilson, published by Abbeville Press, 264 pages, $85.00 (or $79.95 at

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