The Barnes & Noble Review
The catalogue for a traveling exhibition of the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, this fascinating book features 100 historical photos depicting the complex, often deeply passionate relationships of mariners with their vessels and the sea. Each photo chronicles a fragment of the mariner's experience over the past 200 yearsshipbuilding, the making of a wooden skiff, commercial fishing and whaling, amateur sailing, deep-sea diving, naval encounters, and much more.
At once beautiful, informative, and affecting, each of the 100 black-and-white photographs in A Maritime Album, with their exquisite textures and pearly light effects, chronicles a fragment of man's relationship with the sea. Selected and sequenced by eminent photographic historian John Szarkowski from an archive of more than 600,000 maritime images, the photographs in A Maritime Album capture an era in which photography came of age and steam power transformed both transportation and Western culture.
The resulting book is not so much a history of technology as an extraordinary tribute to the triumphs and the perils of life at sea over the past 200 years.
The eclectic mix of photographs in "A Maritime Album" reflects the entire seafaring spectrum: The sights and sounds of shipbuilding, sailing, fishing and whaling, deep-sea diving, and naval encounters are depicted in all their gritty glory. Some are the deliberate work of famous photographers, while for others the photographer was simply a chronicler with a camera and a remarkable eye for composition and visual impact. Applying electronic andother techniques that he created, master technician and photographer Richard Benson directed the sophisticated electronic reproduction of the pictures. He also wrote an evocative essay to accompany each one. These intriguing, highly personal essays provoke us to consider the deeper societal meaning of the people, events, and objects portrayed in these images. The inspired juxtaposition of Szarkowski's well-chosen images with Benson's thought-provoking vignettes of time and place has resulted in a riveting testimonial to the maritime experience.
Particularly affecting in "A Maritime Album," are the snapshots of people at work (boatbuilders, arms-bearing soldiers, seafaring mariners), including an endearing shot of a father passing down the process of boatbuilding to his son, who takes a short break to beam at the photographer. Equally compelling for its historical significance is the extraordinary photograph "USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor." The water in Pearl Harbor was literally on fire on December 7, 1941, and this extraordinary photograph shows exactly that: The oil from the ship's bunkers has spread over the surface and burns fiercely.
Connoisseurs, sailors, historians, lovers of the sea, and photography enthusiasts will savor each beautiful photograph in "A Maritime Album," and will marvel at its wealth of ship lore.Janine Liebert
W. Jeffrey Bolster
"A moving tetimonial to the exaltation and apprehension of human interaction with the sea." -- New York Times Book Review
NY Times Book Review
Not a book of maritime history but a book of splendid photographs that fire memory and imagination about the relationship of humanity to its centuries of traffic with the sea.
Read an Excerpt
HULKS ON THE NORTH LANDING RIVER
JOHN LOCHHEAD American 1909-1991
And so we begin with an ending. Tucked away in the tidal water of the North
Landing River lies a group of hulks, as the marine world refers to the worn-out
and abandoned remains of its ships. Even when a vessel is small it can be
difficult to get rid of, as the backyards of coastal America show, but when the
victim of age is a ship, too large for a simple neglectful end, then disposal
can be a real problem. These hulls have been run up the lower reaches of the
river where a high tide has allowed them to be brought in and pervasive mud has
held them firmly in place; the marshy shores are not particularly good places
for people to live, and so there were no neighbors to complain as the old ships
were nudged into their final resting places.
Nineteenth-century ships, of which these are the likely remains, were
especially difficult things to get rid of. They were very long lived, and had
the habit of rotting away just enough to become dangerous, leaving the hapless
owner with the carcass but not the useful servant. They floated, being made of
wood, and because most carried no ballast, sinking was out of the question
without loading many tons of sand on board. If this was attempted, the
resentful hulk could almost be depended upon to sink in the wrong place, such
as a harbor mouth, while on its way to the deep water, and so entail a removal
that could bankrupt most small enterprises. An old ship could not be let loose,
either, as a one-hundred-foot-long construction of oak and pine could wreak
terrible havoc in a storm in the wrong place. When ship construction shifted to
iron, and then steel, recycling became practical, as a large hull held many
tons of material for the furnaces of the time. Because of this persistent
disposal problem the marine junkyard has evolved, usually starting innocently
enough, like the incipient one pictured here. Often these aggregates of dead
ships covered acres of shoreline as space after space became filled with the
massive and immovable remains of the seagoing world.
The tranquil waters of the river mouth are pierced by the vertical ribs of
the hulls. These hardwood frames persist longer than the softer skin of the
planking, and so the ships gradually turn into skeletons, as we all do in our
inevitable return to the earth. These protruding bones have become a symbol of
earlier times, and along our coasts there lies a repertory of frame and rib,
some jutting from an innocent-appearing beach, and others lying as flooring in
dirty and overused harbors. All of them remind us that even giants have a brief
life before becoming worn out and obsolete in the face of age and change.
FISHING CRAFT ON THE NILE
Boats come in all types and sizes. This is because they are an ancient
invention that has had the chance to evolve into distinct models that suit
specific commerce and its location. If we work out an evolutionary tree of
these many forms, then the most basic division might be whether a vessel was
created for use on the open seas or within the protected water of rivers and
bays. These two places have generated radically different hull forms:
oceangoing ships must plunge deep into the water, seeking out with their hull
shape the more stable realm where wind does not create the turmoil found at the
surface, while river craft need to be shallow to move over sand bars and beach
themselves on gradually inclining shores. One way to think about this
difference is to imagine the hull of a boat to be like a flat plank, and to
understand that success in deep and rough water depends upon this plank
floating vertically on edge, whereas in calmer locations the plank can be flat
on its side, in the attitude it would take if thrown into the water. The
plank-on-edge boat requires ballast or low weight to maintain it in that
position, and this seemingly odd idea of partially sinking a boat in search of
stability rewards the builder with a form that ignores the water's surface
confusion but responds instead to the deeper and more dependable rhythmic
movement of the sea itself.
Nile River boats such as these blended their types in the Mediterranean Sea,
and we find the lateen rig there, fitted onto seaworthy, deep-running hulls.
The Mediterranean region is a giant melting pot of nautical types, and every
imaginable hull and rig finds its home there. The water is of moderate
temperature, and so is a pleasant place to be; the shores hold every type of
human being, and the rivers and open stretches experience every sort of
weather. Here in America, so justly proud of our short history, we often lose
sight of the millennia-long fermentation of invention that this great inland
sea supported, out of which many of our ships evolved.
On a globe we can see that the top of North America explodes into a mass of
islands, rivers, and bays. It is almost possible to travel from the East to
West Coast along the U.S.-Canada border without ever leaving the water, because
the lakes, streams, ponds, and inlets form a network of highways throughout the
wilderness. The boat in this picture is a birch bark canoe, a versatile and
highly developed craft that evolved only in North America, where it made travel
across the continent feasible.
These small boats were lightweight, so they could be carried short
distances, and they were made in different styles, according to maker and
function. One might have been put together in an afternoon, for the single use
of a specific river crossing, while others were constructed with great care and
refinement to permit years of working life. We do not know how long these small
boats have been around, but their intricate construction and extreme refinement
speak of an ancient craft. The modern aluminum canoe and the beautiful
canvas-covered Maine canoe are simplified derivations of the perfect craft we
see in this photograph.
John McPhee wrote a marvelous short book in the 1970s called The Survival of
the Bark Canoe. It describes the disappearance of canoe builders by mid-century
and the efforts of a New Hampshire native, Henri Vallaincourt, to relearn the
craft. After building early versions based on examples he had seen,Vallaincourt
heard of The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by the great nautical
scholar Howard I. Chapelle, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington, D.C. Chapelle, it turns out, wrote the book because he stumbled on
a vast and encyclopedic archive of information, collected toward the end of the
nineteenth century, about every detail of the form and construction of the bark
canoe. This life work of data collection was done by Edwin Adney, who was
obsessed with the canoe. Adney caught up in his net of curious dedication every
scrap of knowledge that remained about this dying indigenous American craft.
Adney's notebooks, photographs, and detailed drawings reside at The Mariners'
Museum in Virginia, and this photograph comes from a glass plate in that
Through centuries of hard work, knowledge such as that embodied by this
canoe can reach a stable and usable form. The disruptive technology and
population growth of our time can wipe away such an achievement in a few
generations. This is why we have museums; they can catch the falling pieces of
our history and set them aside for us to view, so we may better understand the
future that's been so long in the making.
OUTRIGGER CANOE, YARUTO ISLANDS
This little picture from a traveler's album shows a small outrigger canoe
skipping across the water like a bug walking on the surface of a pond. The
canoe is a highly developed form of boat called a proa, which was made for
inter-island passages in the South Pacific. The proa is a double-ender, with
two stems and no stern; the direction of this odd craft could be reversed by
shifting the sail and rudder but not turning the boat. To go home, the rig was
reconfigured to drive the canoe backward, and the sailors simply moved to face
the other direction.
The outrigger design allowed a small boat to be stable while sailing, yet
not have to depend on a deep keel for resistance to the force of the wind. The
many islands where boats such as this were used had few deepwater piers, so the
beach was the normal place to come ashore, and the shallow draft and light
weight of a canoe made landing easy. Since the proa traveled back and forth but
did not turn around, she only needed a pontoon on one side. When present-day
boatbuilders try to achieve record speeds under sail they often build proas,
since the practical issues of changing direction and traveling at different
points of sail don't enter into speed trials along a measured course. Like
other extreme boats, the fastest modern racing proas easily exceed the speed of
the wind, and they move so rapidly that the sail is sheeted in to utilize a new
wind direction created by the combination of air and boat speed-the "apparent
wind." This new and rapidly moving breeze can form a taut and efficient airfoil
out of the sail, and the boat is pulled along by the pressure differential this
shape can generate. All modern rigs use this principle, but racing sails behave
more like airplane wings than the older sheets of canvas that both pushed and
pulled a boat across the water.
THE JOSEPH CONRAD
If we asked the ship to pose for an idealized portrait she couldn't do a better
job than this. The light is that moving afternoon sort, when the sun breaks out
to illuminate the foreground against a dark and cloudy sky; movie folks call it
the magic hour. The ship leans to a fine breeze, but somehow moves high out of
the water across a relatively flat sea, so her full hull can be seen, with the
chainplates clear against the dark iron of her sides. Every sail draws to
perfection, and even the main course obliges with its triangular shape, so we
can see the perfect foresail beyond and ahead of it, curving against the solid
wind. The skipper wears black, his nautical hat and proper coat silhouetted
against the canvas. The two whaleboats are painted a contrasting white, so they
stand out against the gray of the sky.
If there is a certain unreality about this picture, it derives in part from
the fact that this was a training ship, built and run for the specific job of
defining the manhood of young men who had chosen a life at sea. Sailing before
the mast was doomed by the advent of steam power, and it was impossible for
mature sailors to imagine a new generation of mariners who didn't know the
craft and hardships of sail. Training ships were built in all countries having
merchant or military fleets, and these continue in use today, far past the time
of the last commercial sailing ships. Because they were created for
educational purposes, these boats existed outside the brutal economic
restraints that dominated the commercial world. They had a relatively
comfortable budget on which to run, and used large and obedient crews to make
sure every line and painted surface was in perfect order. No dirty or corrosive
cargo gets loaded here, and no shells or cannonballs would ever touch the
The Joseph Conrad was built in Denmark as the Georg Stage, and she is afloat
today under her new name at Mystic Seaport. The Conrad was not always on the
right side of the surface, however, for in 1905 she was rammed by a steamer and
sank with the loss of twenty-six young men. The sinking was rapid and fatal in
part because the ship had no watertight bulkheads, such as the ones that kept
the destroyer USS Shaw afloat (plate 67). When she was raised and rebuilt,
these lifesaving improvements were added, and so this small, full-rigged ship
was able to keep doing her job of preparing new generations for a life at sea.