Photo-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2015
Here is my annual listing of works of fiction and poetry published during the previous year which contain embedded photographs as part of the textual matter. You can see all of my previous lists via the drop-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of this page. I’ve updated a number of the annual lists recently, usually thanks to readers who point me in the direction of books I’ve overlooked. If you know of a book from any year that I might not have mentioned, please let me know in a comment. (Revised February 7, March 5, 28, April 17, September 7, 13, 2016, January 5, March 14, 2017.)
Megan Mayhew Bergman. Almost Famous Women. NY: Scribner. Contains thirteen short stories about not-quite famous women, including Beryl Markham, Romaine Brooks, and Oscar Wilde’s niece, to name just three. Nine of the stories are preceded by a photograph of the subject, two use reproductions of paintings, and two stories have no illustration.
Wiliam Boyd. Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay. NY: Bloomsbury. A biography of a fictional photojournalist, the men she loved, and the times in which she photographed – which span from Weimar Germany through the Viet Nam war. The book reproduces numerous photographs, including snapshots and examples of photojournalism. Image credits are given to thirty-two women. The list includes well-known photographers, such as Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Lee Miller, Martha Gellhorne, Lisette Model, and Diane Arbus, a number of lesser-known photographers, and several woman known for other careers, including M.F.K. Fisher and Rebecca West.
Philip Brookman. Redlands. Göttingen: Steidl. Essentially a short story heavily illustrated by color and b&w photographs and sketches by Brookman, a highly-respected curator and photographer. The story, which is told in diary-like entries from the years 1948-1985, involves a young photographer trying to make sense of the death of the mother he scarcely knew. Although most of the events take place in Redlands, California, other locations include New York and Mexico. “By juxtaposing the oppositional strategies of fiction and documentary practice to conjure a fabricated narrative, Redlands questions the veracity of logical observation and embraces the poetry of the real world” (from the dust jacket).
Zachary Thomas Dodson. Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel. NY: Doubleday. An extensively illustrated novel from Dodson, book designer and co-founder of Featherproof Press. With at least one vintage photograph and several photographs of documents.
Salvador Elizondo. Farabeuf or, The Chronicle of an Instant. n.p.: Ox and Pigeon, 2015. This e-book appears to be the only English translation of Elizondo’s 1965 novel, a sado-erotic masterpiece of Mexican literature, inspired both by Georges Bataille and the Nouveau Roman of Alain Robbe-Grillet and others. This edition contains a single photograph, a truly gruesome image of a Chinese woman being publicly tortured during the Boxer Rebellion. This image apparently appears in the 1961 book that inspired Elizondo – Batailles Les larmes d’Éros (The Tears of Eros). The subject of the novel is Dr. Louis Hubert Farabeuf (1841 – 1910), a famous French surgeon. According to Wikipedia, “His passionate writings and descriptions of amputation surgery attracted the attention of writers and scholars interested in the aesthetics of eroticism.” The illustrations in his books such as “Précis de manuel opératoire” would have delighted and inspired the Surrealists.
William H. Gass. Eyes: Novellas & Stories. NY: Knopf. Two novellas and four stories (all previously published in literary journals), each preceded by a reproduction. The images include: a photographic self-portrait by Gass, a reproduction of a letter written to Gass, a film still from Casablanca, an uncredited photograph (but probably by Michael Eastman), and two drawings. In addition, there is a photograph facing the title page credited to the German photographer and artist Dieter Appelt. The lead novella, called “In Camera,” dates back to 2000 and tells the story of a dubious dealer whose shop contains box after box of photographs for sale. Oddly, when this story was originally published in Conjunctions 34 (2000), it did not include the photograph that it now opens with.
P.J. Harvey & Seamus Murphy. The Hollow of the Hand. London: Bloomsbury. An oversize, collaborative work made by poet and singer P.J. Harvey and photographer Seamus Murphy during travels they made together. The book is divided into three section, according to location: Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington, D.C., and in each section a large number of photographs follow a dozen or so poems.
Adam Kirsch. Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs by August Sander. Forty-six poems, accompanied by forty six b&w photographs by the great German photographer August Sander.
Reif Larsen. I Am Radar. NY: Penguin. Contains numerous types of b&w illustrations, many of which are photographs.
Valeria Luiselli. The Story of My Teeth. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press. Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez is a world-famous auctioneer who happens to collect the teeth of famous historical figures, including Plato, Petrarch, Virginia Woolf, etc. “A combination of memoir, fiction, art criticism, and autobiographical reflectios, this is a remarkable story about stories” (according to the dust jacket). The book was written while Luiselli had a residency in the Jumex juice factory, and she mentions some of the works of contemporary art owned by the Fundación Jumex. A translation by Christina MacSweeney from the 2013 Spanish original La Historia de mis dientes (2013). The novel contains a section of nine variously credited b&w photographs, each accompanied by a quotation (Voltaire, H.G. Wells, etc.) Each image depicts a location in or near Mexico City (one is a map detail) corresponding to a site mentioned in chapter 6.
Stephane Mallarme. A Roll of the Dice. Seattle: Wave Books. A new translation of Un Coup de Dés by Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno. Since Mallarme’s poem was originally meant to be accompanied by “vaguely nautical” illustrations by Odilon Redon, the translators have decided to substitute contemporary photographs to this edition. Bonnono describes the photographs, which were made by his co-translator Jeff Clark, as “nautical, astral, aerial, abyssal, and always uncertain.” The typography is based on the version that Mallarme was working on at the time of his death. A very beautiful production.
Joe Meno. Marvel and a Wonder. Brooklyn: Akaschic Books. Meno’s story of a grandfather and grandson and a stolen horse contains at least one photograph.
Patrick Modiano. Dora Bruder. Berkeley: University of California Press. An important investigative novel by the Novel Prize winning author. A search for the story behind a young girl who disappeared in Paris during the Occupation. A translation by Joanna Kilmartin from the 1997 French original of the same title. This edition appears to be the first to include three photographs of Doris Bruder and family, plus two maps of Paris. The earlier edition from London’s Harvill Secker published in 2014 under the title Search Warrant (but the same translation by Kilmartin) does not include images. Neither does the original French edition. For my review of this title, click here.
Monica Ong. Silent Anatomies. Tucson: Kore Press. Poetry with illustrations (including family photographs, anatomical illustrations, medical imagery, and collages) from various sources. Many of Ong’s poems deal with her Chinese and Filipino heritage.
Maureen O’Shaughnessy. Lakeland. Port Adelaide: Ginninderra Press. Lakeland combines prose fiction and poetry and twelve uncredited photographs in a story that “moves in and out of Nazi Germany, across the two hemispheres and through generations of exile and emigration” (to quote the back cover).
Ransome Riggs. Library of Souls. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. The third in a series of books that began with Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children (2013) and Hollow City (2014), all based on the author’s wonderful collection of very quirky vintage photographs and snapshots.
Rebekah Rutkoff. The Irresponsible Magician: Essays and Fiction. South Pasadena, CA. Meditations on art, images, and film, written in a montage of imaginary conversations, autobiography, and essay. Rutkoff’s writing eliminates boundaries between the non-fiction and the fictional. Contains 46 color photographs, nearly all credited to the author.
Monica Sabolo. All This Has Nothing To Do With Me. London: Picador, 2015. First English language edition. A translation by Georgina Collins from the 2013 French original Tout Cela N’a Rien À Voir Avec Moi. A heavily-illustrated novel about an office love affair that never gels. Many photographs by the author.
Ellis Sharp. Quin Again and Other Stories. London: Jetstone. The title story, “Quin Again,” contains seventeen b&w photographs by the author. By far the longest story in the collection (it’s nearly half the book), “Quin Again” is an homage to Ann Quin, the British novelist (1936-1973) who committed suicide. Curiously, the narrator of the story lives in a village in East Anglia. Judging by several hints, the village is apparently Cromer, which is about 24 miles north of Norwich, where W.G. Sebald taught, and about 10 miles north of Alysham, which Sebald mentions in The Rings of Saturn.
Iain Sinclair. Westering. London: Test Centre, 2015. Six photographs by Sinclair and five poems from the 1970s, along with an Introductory Note by the British poet Chris Torrance. The entire piece appears to be an off-print of pages 65-87 from the literary journal Bricks from the Kiln #1 (December 2015). It is printed entirely in blue ink and includes a special bookmark.
Alexander McCall Smith. Chance Developments Unexpected Love Stories. Edinburgh: Polygon, 2015. The writer mostly known for his “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series of mysteries gives us five stories of “love and friendship” inspired by five vintage photographs from the collection of Historic Environment Scotland.
Lily Tuck. The Double Life of Liliane. NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. An autobiographical novel containing numerous b&w photographs that are credited to various sources. The double life referred to in the title, while vaguely referencing a quote from Paul de Man, refers to the transatlantic life that Liliane leads as she shuttles between her parents (her father Rudy becomes a prominent movie producer in Rome, while her mother lives in the US).For my review of this title, click here.
David Vann. Aquarium. NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. A novel of a young girl who visits the Seattle aquarium every day after school. Contains numerous color photographs of aquariums and tropical fish, credited to a variety of photographers.
Quintan Ana Wikswo. The Hope of Floating Has Carried us this Far. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press. Prose and many photographs by the author. For my review of this title, click here. In her stories, Wikswo attempts “to restore something ancient and eternal to its rightful place” in our modern lives.