Silent Symphony by Tony Wu and William Tan might have received the International Prize for Best Book of Underwater Images at the famous Antibes underwater photography festival, but would you buy it? That has to be the question with (coffee-table) books – are they worth the expense? In this case I’m afraid I would have to say, I’m not sure. True, there are some stunning images of tropical marine life in this collection, but there are also more that don’t really stand out. And for all that this book contains some brilliant pictures, so many other top photographers have compiled books featuring the same sort of thing. When producing a volume such as this, authors and publishers have to look at what has gone before and ask – have we improved on it or is it more of the same? Is this book, for example, better than David Doubilet’s Light in the Sea? No, but perhaps that isn’t a fair comparison. A better one might be with Roger Steene’s Coral Seas. Both books were photographed in the same geographical area (South-east Asia), but I feel Steene’s is better and, more importantly, it was published first. Silent Symphony contains some marvellously shot pieces, such as the marbled octopus featured on the cover and the broadclub cuttlefish on page 45, but it doesn’t have that edge that would tempt me to buy it. The grey reef shark opposite the cuttlefish, for example, is really quite ordinary. I can imagine this doing well in the authors’ homeland, Japan, and the judges at Antibes clearly loved it, but in commercial terms it has nothing new to offer on the crowded glossy market.
Tony Wu et William Tan