Before photography, illustrations printed in books were a frequent way people brought images of nature into their homes. Often, this was done by cutting the illustration from the book, framing it, and hanging it on the wall.


I understand, but couldn’t do that. As much as I love birds I love books even more. Books are to be preserved as much as birds are.


I thought of that when opening a new book, “Close to Birds: an intimate look at our feathered friends.” This is a collection of incredible and personal photos of birds, accompanied by informative and conversational text. Roine Magnusson took the photos. Mats and Asa Ottosson wrote the text. The three are Swedish.


If this book had been published pre-photography, surely some of these pages would be framed somewhere. The photos are works of art, worthy of display. The technique used to take these highly detailed, stylized photos, giving such a unique impression of the birds, is explained in the book. 


Magnusson worked with bird banders, borrowing birds for a minute or two to take their pictures. The birds went into an empty box, a stage as it were, with unmarked sides, Magnusson with camera and flash in place, peering into the box. The bird did what it does. Magnusson captured postures and poses, color and detail in a few photos with each subject. The birds, treated with care the author says, were quickly released.


The birds are from Europe, some species known to us as well. More importantly, the birds are beautiful regardless of species or whereabouts. There are birds of stunning color, birds of the plainest patterns. The Ottossons write of the house sparrow, “We love to see the magic in the ordinary.”


The images are large, sometimes within the bounds of the 8 1/2 x 9 1/4-inch pages, sometimes cropped to fit, the birds making that decision by their behavior in front of the camera. Again, the detail in these photos is extraordinary, the colors likewise. 


The book is printed on fine, heavy stock. It is a work of art itself, beautifully bound, with clean and dramatic design, all ingredient choices well made. 


It was published late last year by Roost Books ( There are 272 pages, an index, a list of works cited, brief bios of the artistic threesome, hardcover, $39.95.





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