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A SYMPHONY OF SCENIC BEAUTY--AVANN-AARSUA: GREENLAND'S FARTHEST NORTH. By PETER R. DAWES and JAKOB LAUTRUP. Copenhagen, Denmark: De Nationale Geologiske Undersogelser for Danmark og Granland (GEUS), 2017. ISBN 978-877871-473-2. 390 p., colour illus. Hardbound. 300 Danish kroner incl. VAT, excl. postage.

Peter Dawes and Jakob Lautrup have produced a visually stunning book of photographic images from northern Greenland, or Avannaarsua, as the land north of 78[degrees] is known in Greenlandic. Fieldwork with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland brought them to this uninhabited region on bedrock-mapping expeditions during the latter half of the 20th century. (Disclosure: I participated in five expeditions to East and North-East Greenland with Lautrup and am a huge fan of his photography.) Lautrup was a staff photographer for the Survey, and many of his photos have been published in support of geological research (e.g., Henriksen, 2008), but this is the first major collection of his work focusing on the artistic elements of the Greenland landscape. Although photographs by others are included in the book (demonstrating that even amateurs can take great pictures in Greenland), the majority of the images are Lautrup's. Dawes composed the text for the volume; as a retired geologist who spent his career with the Survey, including 22 summers in Greenland, he knows the place well.

Rock, ice, and water naturally figure prominently in the book, which is organized around five themes: solid rock, weathered rock, glaciers, rivers and lakes, and the sea. The authors overlay a symphonic structure on these themes, which they call movements. The first movement, Rondo, is dedicated to "Bedrock and its bold landscapes," the second movement, Pastorale, covers "Surficial deposits and subdued landscapes," and so on. The musical metaphor is a bit too contrived for my taste, but may appeal to others. At the very least, the symphonic structure does not detract from the images or the underlying organization of the five main themes. As in a symphony, words are superfluous; it is the music--and here, the images--that imprint on the mind. This is not to say that the book is quiet. Many of the photographs evoke the sounds of the Arctic: the howling wind, rushing water, drip of melting ice, creaking glaciers, exploding icebergs, and the rumble of a rock fall, to name a few.

Readers will find much to enjoy in this book, where rock, ice, and water are arranged in endless geometric patterns and true color. Lines, planes, polygons, and 3-D shapes form single geometric elements that dominate some of the images, such as the linear gullies accented by snow (p. 32), parallel rock planes reminiscent of a layer cake (p. 94), regular polygons of patterned ground (p. 199), and irregular, amoeboid shapes on the surface of melting ice (p. 375). Repetition of patterns, such as the zigzag folds (p. 130), form delightful designs, while combinations of geometric elements--for example, planes, triangles, and polygons in the vista of stratified rock, dissected hills, and patterned ground (p. 158)--are visually stimulating. The images give the reader a tangible sense of the Arctic color palette with all its various hues, lighting, reflections, and shadows. White, blue, brown, and gray are the dominant shades, with splashes that surprise the eye of yellow, orange, pink, and purple from flowers and lichen. Contrast achieved by the juxtaposition of light, material, geometry, and color lends boundless interest to the images. One of my favorites, a ribbon of golden sand next to a still inlet, with a background of bright, white icebergs against dark rock, is perfectly composed (p. 350). Other readers will choose their own favorite photos, for their own reasons, but the experience should bring pleasure to all. From sunlight caught on the wisp of a cloud matched by the heads of cotton grass (p. 204) to something as mundane as shadows cast by a mud-covered boulder (p. 351), the pictures capture the essence of Avannaarsua and carry the reader into the sublime beauty of this place.

The book contains more than 300 large, color images, including 15 spectacular panoramic views that spread over two pages. The photos pull the reader in, simultaneously magnifying the landscape and shrinking the viewer. The few shots with people (e.g., p. 131-132) really emphasize the vastness of the land. Details of native plants and animals come to life in the vignettes, smaller photographs augmenting the larger views. The quality of the reproduction is adequate; however, the more homogenous parts of some images, particularly sky and snow, are pixelated. The publishers have successfully achieved a balance between resolution and price that works. The figure captions are consistently informative; my only quibble is that not all of them provide the location. A useful place name map conveniently occupies the back cover, and maps of the physiography and geology are also included. Explanatory text has been kept to a minimum, with a glossary and just enough information to help the reader navigate the terrain. A Symphony of Scenic Beauty belongs on the coffee table of anyone with Arctic dreams. It will grace the bookshelf alongside my other favorite Greenland picture books by Hoffer (1957) and Roy (2004), but it stands alone in its coverage of Avannaarsua.


Henriksen, N. 2008. Geological history of Greenland: Four billion years of Earth evolution. Copenhagen, Denmark: Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

Hoffer, E. 1957. Arctic Riviera: North-East Greenland. Berne, Switzerland: Kummerly & Frey Berne Geographical Publishers.

Roy, I.B. 2004. Beyond the imaginary gates: Journeys in the fjord region of North East Greenland. Stockport, England: Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Jane A. Gilotti

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

University of Iowa

Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA
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Author:Gilotti, Jane A.
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Date:Dec 1, 2018

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