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Novel Photographers

A Vertigo reader has asked me what novels have photographers as a main character.  Here at Vertigo, because of my interest in W.G. Sebald, I often write about works of fiction that include actual photographs in the text.  I’m aware of about sixty works of fiction having embedded photographs, dating back to Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Mort of 1892.  Curiously, however, very few of the books on this list (at least from those that I own or have inspected) actually have a photographer as a protagonist or main character.  By that I mean some kind of career or professional photographer, not just a character who happens to make occasional snapshots.  From my list I think there are only three books with embedded photographs that have a photographer as a character:

Peter Henisch’sDie kleine Figur meines Vaters. Roman mit Abbildungen. Ein Gespräch (Frankfurt: Fisher Verlag, 1975, translated in 1990 as Negatives of My Father)

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (NY: Pantheon, 2000)

Marianne Wiggins’ novel about Edward Curtis The Shadow Catcher (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2007)

On the other hand, I think there must be a substantial number of unillustrated books in which a main character is a photographer.  Here are a few right off the bat (none of which I have read, unfortunately):

Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Painter of Battles

Keith Kachtick, Hungry Ghost

Cristina Peri Rossi, El Amor es una droga dura

Ronit Matalon, Bliss

If you know of a novel in which a major character is a photographer, please let us know about it by leaving a comment.  In a week or two I’ll compile them all in one post.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. g #

    I just remember two tales where the main character is a photographer: “El ojo Silva” written by the well-known Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (it’s included in Putas Asesinas) and “Ptósis” another tale written by the Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel. This one is included in Pétalos but you can also find it here:
    Another similar case is “Las babas del diablo” written by Julio Cortázar and adapted by Antonioni in Blow-up. In the tale –yes, another tale– the main character is a Chilean photographer and translator.

    September 16, 2008
  2. Here’s a lame one: “Where the Heart Is” (1995) by Billie Letts. A teenage single mom discovers, with the aid of a “wise, soft-spoken, elderly black photographer,” that she if a naturally gifted photograhper.

    This was a best-seller, thanks to Oprah, and is about as far from Sebald as one can get. Except for “The Bridges of Madison County,” which also stars a photographer.

    Hawthorne’s “The House of Seven Gables” features a daguerreotypist. There, that’s more respectable.

    September 16, 2008
  3. hi terry, will have to think about the photographer as main character, but i would highly recommend rebecca solnit’s bio of muybridge, particularly as her ideas about train travel and its impact on time seem to relate much to sebald. but since you mentioned bruges la morte i thought i’d let you know i’ve not only returned from belgium, but posted on airforms documentation of one of the installations i did… which coincidentally is related to rodenbach’s book…

    September 17, 2008
  4. Colum McCann’s first novel ‘Songdogs’ tells the tale of a young man trying to learn about his photographer father by following the trail left in his photographs. Not a bad novel for a first novel. There are interweaving narratives so the father is a main character in his own right.

    September 17, 2008
  5. Hello.

    You might want to look at The Dark Room (2001) by Rachel Seiffert – not only the photographer as character, but also the central concern with the German experience of WWII.

    September 21, 2008
  6. Hi,
    Here are some picks from memory:
    – “A Lovely Tale of Photography”, from Péter Nádas (Twisted Spoon, Prague, 1999), a sort of dreamlike book, even hallucinatory in which several languages are encountered. I really enjoyed it and not only for the photographic pitch. You can read more about it there :
    – “The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata” from Adolfo Bioy Casares. I haven’t read this one yet, but the title is rather self-explanatory. I think I remember that Casares was himself a photographer in his youth and anyway his classic novel “Morel’s Invention” can be seen as a metaphor of photography, too.
    – “Problemski Hotel” by Dimitri Verhulst, the story of a photo-reporter in European refugee camp.
    – Italo Calvino wrote a short story about “The Adventure of a Photographer” (don’t have the English source)
    – You can also check a few XIXth century gothic novelists such as Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (“Claire Lenoir”) or Maurice Level (“Under the red light”, discovered here : Both use photography as a narrative device.
    – I also think that in “Mokusei” (Cees Nooteboom), one of the two characters is a photographer.
    Since I am far from my books now, I cannot check for more. In particular a lot of contemporary french novels involve photography, but they might not be translated in English yet (if ever…)
    Hope this open new leads…

    September 21, 2008
  7. dominique #

    Aventura de Un Fotografo En La Plata

    Adolfo Bioy Casares

    September 22, 2008
  8. ieyasu #

    Double Image, by David Morrell, 1998. Thriller.

    September 28, 2008
  9. brandon #

    “Coming through Slaughter” by Micheal Ondaatje, i believe, has some embedded photographs, and the New Orleans photographer Bellocq is a major character.

    Ondaatje’s other early works “Collected Works of Billy the Kid” and “Running in the Family” both also have at least a couple embedded photographs each.

    December 7, 2009

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