Issue 75 — Summer 2013
Photographs show the world as it is, and literature is ‘made up’. This common sense analysis suggests that the art forms are quite different in kind and function. This issue demonstrates that, on the contrary, there is a long history of interaction between literature and photography. Colin Graham finds that their simplistic opposition conceals the truth that the ‘literary’ and the ‘photographic’ are in fact aspects of both media.
There is a tendency in recent decades for literature to incorporate photographs, making fiction appear more real or blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction. The work of WG Sebald is the best known of the writers who have used photographs in this way and Terry Pitts takes Sebald as a starting point in his article charting the history of the photographically illustrated novel.
Pitts notes that in only a few cases (Wright Morris, Kobo Abe) have the novelist and photographer been the same person. This might give the impression that these collaborations are often unequal. An example of a photographer / writer exchange initiated by a photographer would be Robert Frank’s exhibition Distant Closeness, a tribute to the Swiss writer Robert Walser. Reto Sorg describes how this show came about, and the affinity between the two artists.
Another, cruder, measure of status when comparing literature and photography is the price of it. Orla Fitzpatrick has looked at the market history of two classic titles published in 1936, one a novel and one a photobook. Has the long established trade in literary first editions maintained the value of famous novels or have they been surpassed by the growth in interest in photobooks?
Some of the ways in which photographs can be literary are demonstrated by the portfolios in this issue. Donald Mahoney relays a love story of his own to introduce Joe Duggan’s photo story Life Is Not Enough. Duggan’s tale concerns love, marriage and misadventure all of which are acted out on a self-built theatrical set.
Lucy Soutter introduces Hannah Starkey’s new series of images In the Company of Mothers. Soutter notes that "although it may not seem a heroic task, capturing and enlarging the details of women’s everyday experience remains a rare, valuable contribution" to how women are represented.
Dragana Jurisic pays homage to Rebecca West’s book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, an epic account of Yugoslavia, written just before the outbreak of World War Two. Starting in 2011, Jurisic retraced West’s journey, reinterpreting the book using photography in an attempt to relive her own experience of Yugoslavia, the country where she was born and which no longer exists.
This issue is part of a season dedicated to photography and literature. To see films and blog posts expanding on the subjects dealt with here, go to the Source website.
— The Editors