Review: The Big Cloud, by Camille Seaman

I recently came across Camille Seaman’s photographs and her book The Big Cloud, published last May by Princeton Architectural Press.

I started to notice storm watching photos a couple of years ago, and started to pay more attention when my friend Sandra Herber began posting her storm photos taken in the U.S.. Her work led me to Mike Oblinski’s photos and videos, and Mitch Dobrowner’s spectacular black and white storms.

big cloud book cover new

An introductory essay, written by Camille, explains how she got caught up in storm chasing. A second introduction, by Alan Burdick explains our artistic interest in and expression of cloud formations. A second, longer introduction by Camille provides more detail about storm chasing and her work’s relationship with into her Native American heritage.

Storm photos often work best when seen as panoramas. It’s hard to imagine something that big, that wide, forming and moving over land (Seaman notes that giant clouds called supercells can be up to 80 km wide and move anywhere from 30 to 100 kmph). Her photos do a wonderful job catching the play of light, the mix of blues and browns within the storm formations.
camille seaman light road
Camille Seaman’s storm images catch the storm and light on surroundings. (Princeton Architectural Press)

I like her style of putting darkness on one side of the image and there are some where the light is exquisite, but the book pages fight with the images, which drives me nuts. Many of the images run through the book’s gutter and the binding stops me from seeing the picture as it was intended.

Unlike the photos of, say Dowbrowner, which feel elegantly constructed and usually seen stripped of colour, Seaman’s images have a distinctly documentary feel (she makes clear in her introduction that her images are of weather patterns, not scenes of the disasters that these storms can leave in their wake).

 

camille seaman side
There’s an elegant construction to Seaman’s photos and a tendency to push the darkest parts of the storms to the side of an image. (Princeton Architectural Press)

There’s often a lot of grain in the pictures, which I’m not sure has to be there, and use of super-wide angles to catch the magnitude of the storms leads to buildings that lean on the edges of the pictures.

camille seaman wide angle
Wide angle images take in the immensity of the storms. (Princeton Architectural Press)

The images are dated and appear chronologically, from 2008 through 2014 (I learned that storm chasers name storms by the date of appearance, which adds to the documentary feel of the book, though there being info about some pics but not others feels just a little haphazard.

camille seaman dark side
Images in the book are dated and some include circumstantial detail. (Princeton Architectural Press)

Seaman’s documentary feel of images is enhanced by several images of storm chasers in and beside vehicles, linking the images to the last section. Seaman writes about the long days of driving to potential storm sights, with hours spent wedged in a car eating food that isn’t that great. So, Instagram-style photos are added to give the viewer a sense of what it’s like traveling and waiting. It’s a great idea but I wish it was done a bit differently with a few more pictures.

Overall, the images are impressive, with viewing made a challenge by the layout of the book. It’s a strong collection, worth picking up, and has led me to Camille Seaman’s earlier book about icebergs, titled Melting Away. I’m looking forward to perusing that one, too.

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