15.5.06

Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity

"Everybody in the vicinity of the koalas looked as if they had seen rare glimpses of eternity."

With her very first words from Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity author/editor Joanne Ehrich sets the stage for this beautifully crafted collection of photographs by amateur photographers and professionals around the world who have been transfixed by the sight and serenity of tiny koala, the gentle "Native Bear" of Australia.

"It seems as though koalas utter a gentle whisper that can only be heard by our true selves, rousing our soul's essential desire to take time-out...to capture a little bit of that koala power to keep for ourselves."

Not actually a bear but rather a marsupial the koala is perhaps the best known teddy bear like creature in common imagination and this book containing over 300 beautiful full color plates by 120 photographers does little to dispel that image. Photo after photo makes us fall in love more with the turn of each page. Every sublime image and each gaze into the lens confirms what these photographers experienced in the presence of Australia's most charismatic resident, that they, "Like Himalayan monks who are helped by people from around the globe... invoke our protective instinct, making us feel good about being good."

But there is another element to this book and that is the more compelling truth that although koalas are unerringly beguiling as anyone who has ever seen one will attest, the koala is truly an endangered species; threatened by its own vulnerability as much as by its endearing charm.

Ms. Ehrich has spent years compiling hundreds of images of these gentle arboreal creatures and brings us a dynamic, almost kinetoscopic, view of the koala as seen through the elegantly scripted pairing of images in successive time line. The result is a fluid sequence of portraits that almost appear to move as you gather in one compelling frame after another. As if strolling through the halls of an exhibit you intuit more from the images than just form and feeling you get a sense of the natural structure and texture of the koala's very lives which leaves you wanting to learn yet more.

The pages are lightly interwoven with an intelligent, readable narration describing the nature and proclivities of this Australian native, adding to the reader's understanding of the plight and perhaps the ultimate salvation of the koala as a species. Like a pictorial reflection of Silent Spring, Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity may in fact serve as a template for the very survival of nature, the koala, and ourselves.

According to the foreword by Australia's "Koala Woman," Deborah Tabart, Executive Director of The Australian Koala Foundation, koalas have had a special relationship with the land and people of Australia but, "Sadly, the plight of the koala is an indicator that the Australian bush and the planet are in trouble, and it is everyone's responsibility to keep them alive and healthy." The Foundation has been instrumental over the last eighteen years in drawing attention to the cause of the endangered koala and has recently put forward a study that will hopefully result in official action by the Australian government to take steps to protect the koala given the foundation's evidence "that the koala could be gone altogether from the eastern seaboard within fifteen years—a harrowing thought."

The book is about the koala but the story is really of koala and the people who have made a life alongside the tiny Aussie. From the earliest legends of the aboriginal peoples who originally inhabited the land to those of the first settlers and now 21st century modern urban Australians the experience of living with the mystique of the koala has been a seminal experience and not always kind; but there is a power in the relationship seen in these photographs that makes us want to bridge the gap and live more in a world with koalas than in a world without them.

This book should be in every home where there are children and in every heart that is human. Perhaps famed zoologist Jack Hanna says it best in his afterword, "As we close Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity—an exquisite celebration of the lovable koala—we are also opening a new chapter in their future on earth."

by Harlan Weikle
for Greener Magazine and ABN

Koalas: Moving Portraits of Serenity, edited by Joanne Ehrich
Oversized trade hardcover; 260 pages, 9.25 x 12.25 inches, 315 photographic plates
$45 USD; ISBN 0-9764698-0-4; www.koalajo.com/

Disney Studios new movie The Wild opens today April 14th in theaters across the country
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