This week, our #FridayReads involve a bit less reading than usual – but these volumes are no less valuable because of it. Pictures can tell a story just as well as words, and these books from George F. Thompson Publishing are here to prove it!
The Power of Belief
The rural American South has no grand cathedrals or other wonder-of-the-world monuments to religious belief. Nor has it ever been the site of religious wars or large-scale religious persecutions we see throughout the world. Nevertheless, as David Wharton reveals in his remarkable new book of photographs, the rural South is a place—a land, a region, a culture, a “way of life”—so heavily invested in religious belief that the spiritual is constantly made manifest in the ordinary. This is how religion becomes pervasive and integral to everyday life in the South for believers and nonbelievers alike.
Just as David Wharton did for his pioneering book, Small Town South, he has traveled throughout the entire South since 1999, on hundreds of trips, making thousands upon thousands of photographs about the region’s spiritual landscapes—from churches both active and abandoned in all vernacular shapes and sizes to actual church services and outdoor baptisms, from iconographic signs about Jesus and redemption and sin to welcoming gestures about the wonders of revivals and of grace and compassion. Lurking behind every image, however, is a sense of place about this most distinctive American region, in which religious commitment is confined neither to Sundays nor to individual houses of worship. Religion in the rural South is, quite literally, everywhere.
It is Wharton’s unique gift that his photographs have meaning and memory beyond merely recording the physical appearance of spiritual sites and worship activities. The people and places that appear in The Power of Belief are seen not to be a product of recent changes in religious life seen elsewhere in urban and suburban America but, instead, as an ongoing living tradition that dates back far into the history and culture of the rural South.
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Across the Threshold of India
In the Hindu world-view, threshold is a profoundly important concept that represents a passage between one space and place and another, creating a visual bridge between the secular and the sacred. Accordingly, the literal threshold a person crosses when entering and exiting a home or business symbolizes the threshold one crosses between the physical and spiritual realms of existence. Hindus have long believed it is possible to affect a person’s well-being by using diagrams to sanctify the “threshold space.” The diagrams do so by “trapping” ill will, evil, bad luck, or negative energy within their colorful and elaborate configurations, thereby cleansing those who traverse the space and sending them on their way with renewed spirit, positive energy, and good luck and fortune.
The creation of the threshold diagrams is steeped in Indian history and culture going back thousands of years. Practiced by women, it was long considered a vernacular art. But, as this pioneering book reveals, the diagrams represent highly sophisticated mathematical and cosmological underpinnings that have been handed down from one generation of women to the next. As India has modernized and rapidly become more urban, however, more Indian women have acquired more complicated lives, allowing less time to continue the practice of threshold drawing and relying, increasingly, on homogenized pattern books. And so a long-standing and critically important expression of Indian life, religion, and culture is becoming less common to the point the tradition is threatened.
Across the Threshold of India reveals, the story of the threshold drawings for the first time, history of how the threshold drawings evolved, what they have meant and represent in Indian and Hindu culture, and how the practice became a high form of vernacular art for religious and everyday life. By combining her unforgettable photographs—most of which are in the permanent collection of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the nation’s foremost research center for Indian culture and art—with the most recent scholarship on the history and art of the threshold drawings, Martha A. Strawn has given the world a unique and enduring gift. Her book is a work of visual ecology that perceptively portrays one of India’s and the world’s longest and least-known religious practices—the art of sanctifying space through the creation of threshold diagrams.
By presenting the most recent scholarship on the history and art of the threshold drawings and combining that engaging tale with her wonderful fine-art and documentary photographs, Martha Strawn has given the world a unique and enduring gift: a work of visual ecology that perceptively portrays one of India’s and the world’s longest and least-known religious practices: the art of sanctifying space through threshold drawings.
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A Year in Rock Creek Park
This is a hardcover, limited edition of 350 copies, slip-cased and signed by the author
Rock Creek Park is Nature’s gem in Washington, DC. Twice the size of famed Central Park in New York City, Rock Creek Park is the wild, wooded heart of the nation’s capital, offering refuge and a keen sense of place for millions of residents and visitors each year.
Rock Creek Valley serves as the spine of the national park. Its history is long and storied, from native Indian tribes who fished the creek, hunted the woods, and quarried the rock outcroppings, to Euro-Americans’ claims on the land as mill sites, to deforestation near Fort DeRussyduring the American Civil War, to its ecological preservation and designation as a federal park in 1890, the same year Yosemite in California became a national park.
Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a renowned naturalist, writer, and teacher in the DC area, spent a full year in the national park recording her observations. She walked and skied its trails several times a week and in all weather conditions, observing and recording natural events in such engaging prose and insight that we feel right at home when she explores the park’s many “environmental moments.” As Choukas-Bradley writes:
“Rock Creek Park’s legendary ‘wildness’ has inspired not only American Presidents such as John Quincy Adams, who heralded Rock Creek as ‘this romantic glen,’ and Teddy Roosevelt, who led hikes and rock-scrambles there, but also other devotees such as Edward O. Wilson, the world-renowned scientist who, as a boy, fondly studied in the park’s environs.”
But this is more than a nature book, for Choukas-Bradley makes enlightened connections between the natural cycles of life within the park and her life as both a naturalist and writer and a wife and mother. Woven into her wanderings is an exuberance for the restorative powers of Nature and a yearning for better stewardship of our earthly home. Within these pages, Choukas-Bradley leads us on a personal discovery of the wonders of Rock Creek Park. Enhanced by the beautiful photographs of Susan Austin Roth, we are given the gift of an incredible and unforgettable journey.
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People love dogs, and dogs love people. Walking a dog is one of the most visible and mutually beneficial manifestations of that bond. It is a ritual steeped in affection and obligation. It doesn’t have a day off. It doesn’t pay the bills or clean the dishes or do the laundry. Still, people and dogs alike gain the benefits of exercise, socialization, shared experiences and observations. Another benefit, often overlooked, is the pleasure of mutually indulging a trait that ordinary dogs share with extraordinary people: curiosity. This book is, in many ways, an ode to curiosity.
Walking Magpie is about a dog and what a dog sees. It is also a work of serious photography by a well-known and pioneering landscape artist: Chuck Forsman, who, for more than forty years, has been a keen observer of the interface between landscape and culture as expressed through his paintings and photographic art. As a result, Forsman often goes to places that might not be on everyone’s radar screen.
In this book, Forsman took a camera with him during his walks with Magpie, the family dog. Often, these walks are in the neighborhood and surrounding hills where Forsman lives: near the Flatirons in Boulder. But Magpie joins Forsman on other adventures, from Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada to Florida, Ohio, and New York City. The intent is to turn these experiences into art. With each picture we sense mystery rather than clarity, questions about place rather than answers. We hardly can know what a dog knows, but with this book we can appreciate better what a dog sees and senses and experiences, helping the human and canine imagination to meld, at least a little.
Walking Magpie is published in conjunction with a retrospective of Chuck Forsman’s photographs at the Denver Art Museum in October 2013. Published in association with the Denver Museum of Art.
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