Five Novels, Five Photographs
Almost Island online literary magazine has published my essay “Five Novels, Five Photographs” in their Spring 2017 issue. In this essay, I look at five novels in which only a single photograph is used, examining both the different strategies that writers employ when they embed photographic images in their fictional narratives and looking at the impact a single photograph can have on a text. The five novels I chose to write about are:
Jeff Jackson’s debut novel Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio, 2013), a grimly beautiful coming-of-age novel that reminds me of Larry Clark’s infamous 1971 photobook Tulsa, with its insider’s vision of a group of teenagers whose lives centered around sex, drugs, and alcohol. Jackson’s second photo-embedded novel Novi Sad came out in 2016 from Kiddiepunk.
Nicholas Rombes’s first novel The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio, 2014), a noir-saturated exploration of images (both moving and still) and their relationship with truth. Rombes is currently a major contributor to the website The Lost Signals Collection, which describes itself as “an archive of speculative texts, images, sounds, and moving pictures lost to history. It is interested in interrogating what might have been, and what might yet be ….”
Wright Morris’s Plains Song (Harper & Row, 1980), is, as far as I know, unique amongst novels with embedded photographs, in that it uses one photograph which repeats at the opening of each of the book’s fourteen chapters. Plains Song is structured as a multigenerational family tree and thus the photograph that is repeated throughout the book serves as a refrain that encapsulates the gist of Morris’s story.
Konrad Bayer’s Der Kopf des Vitus Bering: Ein Porträit in Prosa (Walter Verlag, 1965), a deliberately fragmented, rambling, hallucinogenic prose work that is ostensibly (but only marginally) about the final days of Vitus Bering (1681–1741), the Danish cartographer for whom the sea that separates Siberia from North America was named.
Dubravka Ugrešiƈ’s The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (New Directions, 1999), a novel about what it means to be an exile, extensively references photographs and photography.