June 15, 2010


Forbidden Places
by Sylvain Margaine
256 pages, Jonglez

Major Thrill’s Adventure Book
by Gary Gianni
32 pages, Flesk Publications

Review by Hereward L.M. Proops

To be honest, I actually don’t own a coffee table. I drink a lot of coffee, but as yet I haven’t felt the need to invest in a table I’ll probably end up walking into all the time. Anyhow, I might not own a coffee table, but I do own a lot of books. Some of the aforementioned books are the sorts that I would display on a coffee table, should I ever own one. My purpose in writing today is not to bewail my lack of table on which to serve coffee to visitors (we never get any), but to share with you, dear reader, two coffee table books from my collection that deserve a bit of love.

I’ve got a thing for abandoned buildings. I guess it stems from my love of horror films and the concept of the spooky old house. As a child, the house next door to my best friend’s was left empty for years and the draw of the place was irresistible. We found a way to get inside (in retrospect, I guess you could call it “breaking in” but we were only nine or ten at the time and did not concern ourselves with such details) and spent hours snooping around, scaring ourselves silly with games of hide-and-seek and midnight excursions in the vain hope we might see a ghost.

Though I’ve grown up, I’ve not grown out of my strange urges to go wandering about creepy old buildings. I can’t explain it but I’m certain that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m sure there are others out there who get that little thrill out of exploring abandoned and derelict houses. Photographer Sylvain Margaine is clearly a kindred spirit. Armed with a digital reflex camera, he has travelled the world in search of the forgotten places that have been left behind by our modern industrial societies. “Forbidden Places” is an impressively large book collecting some of his photographs. Crumbling French chateaus, empty hospitals, rusting gasworks - all lovingly captured in their various states of decay for posterity. Margaine’s photographs feature no live subjects (unless you count the animals in jars from the pictures of the abandoned veterinary school), focusing only on the architecture and solemn atmosphere of the locations. They are stark, simplistic and haunting.

Admittedly, such a celebration of ruin and decay isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for those with an inclination for exploring our forgotten past, it’s an almost essential purchase. The wonderful photography is accompanied by a few paragraphs of text explaining the history of the buildings. This text, unfortunately, is written in flowery, pretentious prose that verges on cod-poetry. Rather than enhance the understanding of the pictures, it only serves to detract from their overall impact. This is, of course, a minor niggle. Most people do not buy a photography book to read the small print and the pictures within this collection are more than capable of speaking volumes for themselves.

A high price tag means that some potential buyers will be put off but “Forbidden Places” is a book that is worth returning to time and time again. Any book that enables me to wander through abandoned buildings without fear of being arrested is going to take pride of place on my coffee table.

Moving from an upmarket book of photography to something entirely different, “Major Thrill’s Adventure Book” is a collection that will appeal to an even narrower demographic than “Forbidden Places”. A small collection of illustrator Gary Gianni’s pictures from various publications, one could mistake the book at first glance for a magazine. From the comic book art that graces the cover to the old-fashioned, meticulous line drawings that hark back to the adventure stories of the 1920s, Gianni’s work manages to straddle a surprisingly wide range of styles. Although the pictures are virtually devoid of any kind of explanatory text, keen readers will be able to spot Captain Ahab, the crew of the Nautilus and Solomon Kane amongst others. The majority of the pictures are in black and white but this does not stop them being both lively and rich in detail.

Like “Forbidden Places”, “Major Thrill’s Adventure Book” is not going to appeal to everyone. Fans of comic books and readers of fantasy fiction will find much to enjoy within the mere thirty-two pages but many will find the exorbitant asking price hard to justify. Still, this does not stop Gary Gianni’s work being utterly charming and worth a look, if only to see a modern artist paying homage to the popular illustrators of old.

Hereward L. M. Proops

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