Bison: Portrait of an Icon, by Audrey Hall with Chase Reynolds Ewald, Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah, 2021, $50
As its title suggests, this book centers on images, and what wonderful images they are. Gracing its pages are no fewer than 200 color images from the camera of Audrey Hall, who studied photography at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland and splits her time between homes in Montana and Santa Fe.
Bison—or buffalo if you prefer—are by nature photogenic, but Hall showcases our national mammal in creative, often dramatic fashion. “Like a whiff of fresh pie, each majestic bull on the skyline and every bison traffic jam immediately transports me back to my early years in the mountains,” writes Hall in her introduction. “For this book bison are my muse, and the landscape my studio.” Chase Reynolds Ewald, Hall’s collaborator on this strong coffee table book (espresso table book might be a better name for it), writes, “To contemplate Audrey’s images of buffalo in their natural habitat is to understand both their ancient presence and their immediate relevance as they continue to occupy a crucial niche in the Western landscape.”
The photos—of buffalo young and old, in herds and solitary, close up and from afar, under big skies, in the snow, behind fences, in front of mountains—speak loudly for themselves. There are no captions. But, yes, there are interesting items to read among the visual treats, including an extended essay by Ewald and a foreword from writer/filmmaker John Hemingway, who writes that we should look upon bison “as icons of a continent, totems of the nineteenth century, and solemn admonishments to all of us inmates of the twenty-first century to do better.”
Also look for the poem “Buffalo Talk” and the short piece “The Seven Buffalo Bulls Become the Big Dipper” by Henry Real Bird, a Crow Indian who served as Montana poet laureate (2009–11). Interspersed throughout are buffalo-related quotations, such as this 1890 musing from Blackfeet warrior Chief Crowfoot:
What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across
The grass and loses itself in the sunset.
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