Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Borneo Rain Forest by Mattias Klum

Borneo rain forest cover
There are oodles of jungle books out there. I don’t mean the Kipling kind, but the large coffee table books filled with photos of rainforests. A number of them are on my bookshelves, reference for my paintings and like coral reef books, they fall into several styles. Some are an overview from around the globe and some focus on a single area, some have a lot of text, explaining things and others, with mostly photos, remind me of picture books for kids. This one is rather different, with a vivid “you are there” feeling. Even though if I really were there, I’d be tripping over tree roots and falling into mud, while hundreds of insects chomped happily on my tender flesh.
The “you are there” feeling is from the combination of the stream of consciousness narration with the unique style of photos. The text is not remote and scientific, but intimate, describing what the author is feeling as well as seeing, giving it all an emotional depth as he expresses his awe of nature. There’s almost a Zen poetry to his words “The rain forest of the Darnum Valley lies embedded in haze. The gibbons are bubbling their song to greet a new day.” The author has been to rain forests around the globe, but maintains that Borneo is the last truly untouched one.
But the text is secondary to the amazing photos. Not only are there the expected vistas of the forest lit like a fantasy painting, but many close-ups of the inhabitants, a leafy praying mantis obviously enjoying it’s dinner and pitcher plants with leaves like cavern mouths. There are series of pictures showing an animal’s activity, such as a mom and baby orangutan feeding in the trees. And stop motion photos of a frog’s splashdown or a cobra gliding through water. Butterflies with names such as Raja Brook’s Birdwing and tangled plants gruesomely called strangler figs.
Many of the photos are blurry or shadowed and in some you can see only parts of animals, they way one really would in the jungle. Instead of rejecting them, as many authors would, they are used to increase the sense of immediacy, as well as highlight the mystery of the rain forest.
Readers will also notice, except for a small herd of Asiatic elephants, the absence of the “big game” types of animals, which is also unusual for this type of book. But that is part of it’s realism, as the author explains “This is not a world for those who must be fed with sensational encounters with big animals.It is a world that provides marvelous meetings with small things.”
At the end of the book are excerpts from the author’s diary of the expedition to Borneo from Spring 1995 to Autumn 1996, which shows how he and his team caught many of the images. Small scaffolds with pulleys provided seating high up in the trees and some pictures of the forest canopy was taken aboard a hot air balloon, which they would land in a river. They put up with leeches and monsoons as they carried a huge amount of photographic equipment over difficult terrain. Personally, I think it was all certainly worth it to have gotten such remarkable photos of those “marvelous meetings”.

Chronicle Books 1998(first published in Sweden in 1997) 190 pp. ISBN 0-8118-22-35-4

Jackie has spotlighted other books which feature rainforests on VL, such as Vietnam, a Natural History and Mean and Lowly Things .

2 comments on “Borneo Rain Forest by Mattias Klum

  1. Hilary
    January 14, 2013

    This sounds like a gorgeous book, Jackie, and this is a great review as you’ve given a real sense of what marks it out from others, and also just what an adventure it must have been for its creators to capture the material.

  2. sshaver
    January 14, 2013


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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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