Picks and Pans Review: Serengeti

updated 08/24/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 01:00AM

by Mitsuaki Iwago

The Serengeti Plain of East Africa is one of those natural marvels whose grandeur can never truly be captured on film. Expanse and scale play too great a part in its impact—thousands and thousands of animals roaming across a savanna that seems endless, stretching out in every direction to meet a sky that seems to be flaunting its infinity. Within the limitations imposed by his subject, however, Iwago has produced a memorable photographic essay. A Tokyo-born wildlife photographer, he rented a house in the middle of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania for 18 months to shoot the 280 carefully reproduced and displayed color pictures in this book. (Some appeared in a 1986 National Geographic article, and the number here could have been edited down by 50 or so.) His introduction is brief and his captions self-evident ("the lion's strong jaws are well suited to the needs of a predator"). The photographs, though, display a primitive beauty and strength. There are lion cubs frolicking, glorious sunsets and balletic impalas. But there are also lions fighting over their kills, muzzles dripping with blood, and hyenas swarming around a dying water buffalo. None of this is new, which is exactly the point. These are photographs of timelessness. To look at them is to gaze into the far distance, to see images our distant relatives might have seen thousands of years ago. (Chronicle, paper, $19.95)

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