What A Place, What A Pair, What A Story


Thanks to National Public Radio in the USA for this amazing sense of people, and place and meaning (click on the image of the book above to go to the story in full) involving an evolutionary biologist we have mentioned more than once and a photographer we will start paying more attention to:

In 1991, photographer Alex Harris was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for his book River of Traps, written with William deBuys. It told the story, in words and pictures, of an old-time New Mexican villager. Harris didn’t win.

Instead, the prize went to evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson for The Ants.

“It took me 20 years to get over that defeat,” said Harris.

Then, coincidentally, Harris was asked by a friend to take a photo of Wilson for his birthday — but before photographing Wilson, Harris wanted to have lunch with him. They hit it off splendidly, and by the end of the meal, they had decided to work on a book together.

That book, Why We Are Here, is a rich examination in text and photos of Wilson’s boyhood home of Mobile, Ala. The photos show a distinct people, nature and, most importantly, place — infused with Wilson’s unique scientific theories on human existence.

“I tried to photograph the people and places in a way that related to something bigger,” said Harris over the phone.

Harris, who also grew up in the South, made five trips to Mobile — the last with Wilson. He said stepping foot in Mobile felt like a homecoming of sorts. And once there, he set off to photograph a “cross-section of contemporary Mobilians, looking at their lives, families, institutions and natural environment.”

Ultimately, Harris says, he and Wilson wanted to create a book that was as much about the meaning of place as it was about the place itself.

Read the rest of that story here. From the book’s promotional copy:


Published by Liveright, 2012

From this historic collaboration between a beloved naturalist and a great American photographer emerges a South we’ve never encountered before.

Entranced by Edward O. Wilson’s mesmerizing evocation of his Southern childhood in The Naturalist and Anthill, Alex Harris approached the scientist about collaborating on a book about Wilson’s native world of Mobile, Alabama. Perceiving that Mobile was a city small enough to be captured through a lens yet old enough to have experienced a full epic cycle of tragedy and rebirth, the photographer and the naturalist joined forces to capture the rhythms of this storied Alabama Gulf region through a swirling tango of lyrical words and breathtaking images. With Wilson tracing his family’s history from the Civil War through the Depression—when mule-driven wagons still clogged the roads—to Mobile’s racial and environmental struggles to its cultural triumph.

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