By: Jonathan Givens
Publisher: Eps Publishing
Publication Date: December 2017
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: February 26, 2018
Jonathan Givens’ bold conception mixes dance and nature in a photographic phantasmagoria.
Former dancer, now professional photographer, Givens decided to pay homage to America’s national park system in its centennial year by driving the length and breadth of the lower 48 states (and flying to Alaska and Hawaii), taking artistic photographs of dancers posing in the midst of the sometimes stark, sometimes gentle, sometimes grand and spectacular natural panoramas of 56 parks. Outfitting his van, Mighty Buford, and setting a goal of 12 hours of driving each day, Givens set out, but not before having screened 3,000 applications from wannabe participants. He selected 163 of them for the honor of being showcased in this large, vividly colorful coffee-table offering. The trek took 90 days. Givens stresses that all the pictures are real, from figures flying over the ocean waves, or stretching bravely over the edge of rock outcroppings, to pirouetting on incoming tides.
Givens has a chatty amusing prose style, so the reader feels a kinship with him from the outset of his challenging journey. He has arranged the book’s chapters by state and park, with a map of the route. The odyssey of DATUSA (Givens’ shorthand for the project) begins in Florida at the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Resort where 16-year-old Taylor Richie soars like a bird over ocean depths; and ends in Georgia at the Cumberland Island National Seashore where 11-year-old Arianna Gavrilas skips airily along the shoreline on day 90. A four-months pregnant Becky Erickson, age 33, poses gracefully over waterfalls at Montana’s Glacier National Park; one of the few male dancers, teenager Gabe Needle, plays daring young man flying over the sands of Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland; and 56-year-old Heidi Lee Hart in a grass skirt appears to be worshipping a gnarled, windswept tree in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Givens states that all photos were taken using the simplest techniques possible, and though the dancers sometimes look like they are surely going to fly over a cliff or plunge into the sea, he assures readers that no dangerous chances were taken.
Looking at the resulting artwork, readers will begin compiling a national parks bucket list, while admiring the dancing dedication of the participants who range in age from 3 to 74. The book is gift-able and would make an excellent choice for a young person considering how to use his or her artistic or acrobatic gifts, or simply needing role models for success in any aspect of life. Givens believes that dancing embodies the rewards that come from hard work and attention to detail, and the book shows that at every level, from his intrepid trek and photographic skill to the grace and grit of his subjects. And let us not forget the contribution of Mother Nature, who created the magnificent settings.
Quill says: This is a fascinating mix of media - a deserved tribute to America’s preservation of natural wild land and a showcase for a remarkable group of agile artists.