Nicholas Sumner is a photographer whose work has been published in twenty nine travel guide books. This, his first travel narrative, recounts the story of a seven-year journey across Asia in pursuit of beautiful pictures.
"Before I left home, I thought that I knew something about photography, but I found that what knowledge I had was more hindrance than help and I had to admit, that really, I didn't know anything at all. This was humbling, and a little frightening, but it was also the beginning of a process of discovery in which my expectations as a photographer and as a traveller were constantly challenged, reassessed and revised.
“I experienced moments that were terrifying and sublime, hilarious and tragic. I was mugged, threatened with guns and arrested; I journeyed among mountains, through jungles and cities, I encountered deserts both spiritual and physical, saw things so beautiful that they moved me to tears and received kindness so absolute that I can never repay it. I knew both joy and despair, I ate kangaroo pie, discovered the exact monetary value of my eyebrows and I fell in love. Twice.”
His journey became much more than a quest for great images. Travelling and photography are pursuits of the curious, they complement and sometimes conflict with one another but both are driven by a desire to observe and a hunger for insight. Both can touch the spirit, move the heart, and both can reveal truth.
- Author News
- View Press Coverage
- Read Book Reviews
- Review This Book
4.0 out of 5 stars Available Light
The Self Publishing Magazine, Issue 28
The Bookseller Buyer's Guide, Autumn 2012
Creative Lens, http://www.creativelens.net/
The Bookseller, April 2012
Available Light recounts a seven year odyssey of photographer Nicholas Sumner around Asia and the Far East. What we don't get is a simple travelogue, or even someone trying to find themselves through their exposure to eastern culture and philosophy, although that does happen, almost by accident. It isn't even the search for the "real" China or the "real" India, instead we have the found China, the found India.
It is to his credit that Sumner kept scrupulous journals and the photography, only a small selection of which make the cut into the book, present a vibrant, almost innocent time. Amazingly, it took place in the early 1990s, but what is described and recorded and experienced almost fits into Margaret Mitchell's quote of it being "a civilisation that is gone with the wind." Nowadays, it would we streamed webcams and rapidly updated digital images, but Sumner took 35mm film and there's a heartstopping encounter with a Russian customs official where the whole project is jeopardised thanks to a clunky X-ray machine.
It's a fine balance of personal experiences, including some dark family revelations, history (Thomas Manning sounds like he was a mad as a bag of cats) and an overview of photographic responsibility. It's not an easy balance to achieve, but with deftness, self-deprecation and a keen eye, he puts the reader into the middle of this journey.
At first I was disappointed with the lack of photos, but it's the recounting of the ones he didn't take, the solitary walker across a desolate plain or an elderly woman at prayer in a river, that really stick in the mind.
If you want an overview of the far east less than twenty years ago and my, how attitudes and circumstances have changed, from a very personal perspective, then get yourself a copy. What it manages to fit in around Western attitudes and more importantly, attitudes to the West, it well worth reading.
Next time, what about The Americas?
by Mr. D. W. Newell
If you love travel or photography or you are about to set off on a gap year, I can't recommend this book enough.
I loved this book. In fact, I loved it so much I was left wanting more and wished there would be an "Available Light" part 2!
The story was gripping and beautiful - intertwining a travel story from a photographer's perspective with insights into the history and culture of each place visited on this eventful 7 year journey.
I spent the beginning of the year travelling in New Zealand and Australia (among other places), so the book had me hooked immediately transporting me back to all the wonderful places I'd visited. What's more, Nicholas Sumner's writing painted such vivid pictures it felt like I was transported through both space and time to all the wonderful places he photographed that I've never visited before. I felt like I lived through all his ups and downs. To me, the most beautiful pictures weren't the superb, evocative travel photographs in the middle in the book...they were the the ones he painted with words of him falling in love (twice). It made me have goosebumps.
This book really gave me Wanderlust. So, my next purchase may need to be the Lonely Planet!
I think in publishing terms... they call it a 'real good page-turner'!
Overall impression - a great read and as much a book about photography and the history of it as we'll as inspirational stories about places all over East Asia. Plus some beautiful pictures.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The writer has a natural flair for a good story and an interesting prose style. Honestly, one of the best Travel books I have read in years.
by Neil Edwards
A really fascinating and beautiful tale of a gap 'year' that stretches out to seven. As a young man the author sets out to explore the far east and capture it in photographs; constantly diverted from his main purpose he discovers both of the region and himself. The book also becomes a piece of recent history - how carefully he has to guard his fragile photographic film - from the moment before asia moved to become the economic tiger that swept away much of what he describes.
Often a book like this would descend into a tale of how much a coddled westerner 'suffers' the hardships of rusting buses and poor food, Sumner is clear sighted enough to see his relative wealth and appreciate how to engage with the real life of those he meets. No 'traveller' imagining he is really living the local life he communicates clearly and enchantingly his position as outsider travelling through mystical lands that are really the often harsh bread and butter life of real people.