Perceptive Travel Book Reviews July 2017
by William Caverlee

In this issue: A picture book of street art, a Shakespeare troupe's performance in every country on the planet, and a book on two photographers that kicked off photojournalism in the 1930s in Europe.

Street Art book review

Street Art
By Ed Bartlett

The lively anthology, Street Art, is packed with terrific color photos of urban art around the globe. It’s arranged as a series of city guides, breezily moving from Toronto to Buenos Aires to London to Copenhagen, and so on. Also included are several interviews with street artists of repute—who have names like Vhils, Blek le Rat, FAILE, and Faith 47. Finally, there are a number of mini-essays describing art festivals in yet another string of cities, places like Detroit, Montreal, Grenoble, New Delhi—making forty-two cities in all.

As is the case of similar image-heavy anthologies, one doesn’t read a book like Street Art straight through. Most readers will probably make an initial walk-through, flipping pages and inspecting the urban landscapes transformed into bright canvases by avant-garde, hyper-imaginative street artists. Then, if you find a city of particular interest, you can delve deeper, learning about specific neighborhoods and locations, where a walking trip will take you into the very heart of these outdoor works of art.

Obviously, to view one of these creations in its actual setting would be the proper way to go, but even here, in miniaturized book form, the mind reels at so many colors, shapes, and images. Who wouldn’t want to see the Megaro Hotel in London with its splashes of bright color linking windows, railings, and pediments? Or the towering painted silos of Australia and Norway? Then there’s the pair of huge blue whales in Grenoble, delicately cradled in a red-and-white sling, which is seemingly suspended from a rooftop by a giant coat hanger—an astounding image.

Hamlet, Globe to Globe: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play
By Dominic Dromgoole

Around-the-world trips, like ascents of Everest, aren’t the rare feats they once were. Who knows how many backpackers, retirees, and loquacious TV guides have clocked the 24,902 miles necessary for a circumnavigation of the planet? Even visiting every single country is routinely accomplished now. Recently, when he was artistic director of the Globe Theater in London, Dominic Dromgoole threw a new twist into the old stunt. In 2014, Dromgoole dispatched a company of sixteen hardy souls (twelve actors, four stage managers), plus a collection of costumes, props, and gear, on an improbable world tour, with the goal of performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet in nearly 200 countries in every corner of the earth. (They appear to have made it to all except North Korea.)

Hamlet is a play full of a broad international awareness. Hamlet, a Dane, attends university at Wittenberg in what is now Germany. Laertes travels to find his fortune in Paris. Fortinbras travels from Norway to pass through Denmark on his way to fight in Poland. Hamlet is sent away in the Fourth Act to England, which is in a client relationship with Denmark. He escapes his fate there through the intercession of some pirates, and pirates are the first and last word in internationalism...

Hamlet, Globe to Globe is Dromgoole’s memoir of his company’s journey, as well as an exegesis, meditation, and riff on both Hamlet, the play, and Hamlet, the character.

For travel-book readers, Hamlet, Globe to Globe offers snapshots of dozens of countries, cities, towns, and villages. The troupe encounters nearly every challenge and problem one can imagine, from gnarly border crossings to sandstorms to proximity to war. But there are also sublime moments when performance, audience, cast, and venue seem to unite in a general joy—the kind of joy that live theater is singularly able to achieve.

For theater enthusiasts, Dromgoole is a near-perfect narrator. His exuberance for his subject flies off the page. A large percentage of the book is composed of theater talk, of discourses on Shakespeare and Hamlet, and of behind-the-scenes descriptions of putting on a production. Hamlet, Globe to Globe isn’t per se a travel book; it doesn’t claim to be. But it contains a travel book within its account of an around-the-world journey with stops (they are all listed) in Romania and Albania; Zimbabwe and Botswana; Ecuador and Peru—198 performances in all.

Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism
By Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos

Like the preceding title, Eyes of the World isn’t specifically a travel book. It’s a combination of history and biography. But it includes so many detailed descriptions of Europe—largely of France and Spain—that it should be of interest to travelers and photo buffs.

Among twentieth century photographers, Robert Capa was one of the most highly esteemed. And among his most famous photos were his images from June 6, 1944, when he went ashore in the first wave of American troops at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Then, there’s his searing, terrible image, “The Falling Soldier,” from 1936, a soldier’s moment of death during the Spanish Civil War, arms and torso thrown backwards as a bullet hits him.

Capa was one of the founders of Magnum Photos. And, doubtless, every starting-out photographer has been daunted by Capa’s famous quote, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Robert Capa and Gerda Taro met in Paris in 1934, both of them youthful émigrés—Capa from Hungary, Taro from Germany. In Paris, they soon became a couple, reinventing themselves with new names (Capa was born André Friedmann; Taro was Gerta Pohorylle) and new careers. They both became professional photographers; both published their work in the news magazines of the day.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a German firm revolutionized photography by creating the portable Leica. The Contax camera, developed by a competitor, followed shortly after. These cameras were small and rested snugly in your palm. They used thirty-five-millimeter film—the same size used in movies—which was inserted on a left spool with sprockets and threaded across to the right spool...

Now Capa, Tarom and others can move around, lift the camera to the eye, focus, and shoot, again and again. These new cameras are like everything that is happening the twentieth century: sleek, modern, lightweight.

Most of Eyes of the World takes place during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The glamorous young couple, Capa and Taro, soon find themselves in Spain, working as photojournalists and supporting the Loyalist government, along with other artists and writers, like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, John Dos Passos, W.H. Auden.

Gerda Taro died in 1937 of injuries she sustained while covering a battle in Spain. Robert Capa also died of war injuries, in 1954 in Indochina. Eyes of the World serves as an introduction to the Spanish Civil War, as well as a profile of a young man and a young woman, who were among the twentieth century’s first photojournalists.

With index, notes, bibliography, and timeline. And with numerous Capa and Taro photographs, plus other contemporary images.

William Caverlee is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, including The Oxford American, Cimarron Review, Flight Journal, The Florida Review, and Louisiana Cultural Vistas. His work appears in The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings, and he's the author of Amid the Swirling Ghosts and Other Essays.

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Buy Hamlet Globe to Globe: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Eyes of the World

Buy Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK