Photography-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2022
Photo-embedded literature—novels and books of poetry which use photographs as an essential element of the “text”—is a core interest of mine and is something I have written about extensively on this blog since I began it in 2007. In 2022, I managed to see or be informed about a small number of newly published examples of photo-embedded literature by writers from Australia, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, Ukraine, and the United States. The stories in the anthology Visible: Text + Image include writers from France, Martinique, Mexico, and Poland.
This preliminary listing for 2022 adds to my extensive bibliography of such books for the years from 1892 to the present that can be found underneath the pull-down menu Photo-Embedded Literature at the top of Vertigo. If you know of a book of photo-embedded fiction or poetry that I have not listed yet, please let me know in a comment anywhere on Vertigo. My thanks to the many readers who have already pointed me to books that I had not known about.
Yevgenia Belorusets. Lucky Breaks. NY: New Directions, 2022. Translated from the 2018 Russian original by Eugene Ostashevsky. In her timely book of stories about the impact of war on the ordinary women of Ukraine, writer and photojournalist Belorusets includes a group of twenty-three of her own photographs.
Maud Casey. City of Incurable Women. NY: Bellevue Literary Press, 2022. Casey’s novel about the famous psychiatric ward of the nineteenth century Parisian hospital Salpêtrière includes historic photographs of the hospital and some of the well-known images of its patients made by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who single-handedly invented the idea of hysteria.
Joshua Edwards. The Double Lamp of Solitude. Galveston: Rising Tide Projects, 2022. This is an ambitious book of poetry and photographs which Edwards has published without copyright and placed into the public domain. The first section consists of “Three Landscapes,” dedicated to the poets Friedrich Hölderlin, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Miguel Hernández. Each of these “landscapes” consists of a description of a particular landscape that Edwards visited that is associated with one of the poets, several photographs by Edwards, and a translation of one of that poet’s works. The second section consists of twenty-eight poems, most of whose titles begin with “The Lamp of.” Edwards says this is an adaptation of a story in Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. This is followed by Edwards’ translations of poems by Gabriela Mistral and Gérard de Nerval. The book ends with “Five Plans for Walking Around a Mountain”—five poems, each facing a page with a grid of either four or eight b&w photographs of a hike Edwards made on Mt. Rainier.
Sam Jenks. Robinson in Chronostasis: A Surrealist PsychoGeographical Non-Romance. Magdalen Yard Books, 2022. Two men (apparently Jenks and Tsukada) appear to be in the same city as each other and repeatedly fail to meet (although it’s more complex and more fun than that). With many photographs attributed to Koji Tsukada.
Esther Kinsky. Rombo. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2022. A novel about the effects of two 1976 earthquakes on the lives of people in a small village in northeastern Italy. A thousand people were killed and tens of thousands were left homeless. Rombo focuses on the voices and memories of a handful of villagers. The book includes seven nearly abstract b&w photographs of the surviving fresco in the cathedral at Venzone, Italy. The novel was translated into English by Caroline Schmidt and published in London by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the same year. New York Review Books will publish the American edition in 2023.
Robin Coste Lewis. To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness. NY: Knopf, 2022. This is a monster of a book—380 pages of powerful poetry and an amazing collection of photographs that Lewis’ grandmother had left behind in a suitcase beneath her bed when she died twenty-five years ago. The poems deal with a wide range of topics, including the generation of Lewis’ grandmother, family, the Great Migration north, and Black life in general. The photograph collection mysteriously gathered together by her grandmother shows Black people and daily Black life across the first half of the 20th century. The phrase “perfect helplessness” comes from Matthew Henson, a Black explorer (1866-1955) who went with Robert Peary on seven trips to the Arctic and is believed to have been the first of Peary’s men to reach what they thought was the North Pole. (It probably wasn’t.) Parts of several poems in the book refer to Henson’s experiences. This is a rare book in which the poetry and the photographs interact in sophisticated, often unexpected ways.
Ewald Murrer. The Diary of Mr. Pinke. Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2022. Translated from the Czech original by Alice Pišťková, with additional translations by Jed Slast. From the publisher’s website: “Written as a compilation of diary entries, [this book] relates the strange happenings witnessed by a group of villagers—among whom are a rabbi, a magic goat, an ancient Gypsy, a family of unicorn hunters, and a fortuneteller—in an atmospherically surreal Galicia where people and beasts float across the landscape, leaving only cryptic traces of their passage. . . This new English edition includes Murrer’s original full-color collages and is based on the 2018 Czech re-edition that was substantially revised and augmented by the author.”
Johny Pitts and Roger Robinson. Home Is Not a Place. William Collins, 2022. Color and b&w photographs by Pitts and poems by Robinson. The pair decided to examine Black life in Britain by exploring the country’s “often overlooked coast,” beginning at Tilbury, where Pocahontas is buried and the Empire Windrush docked in 1948, bringing a new wave of British citizens who were immigrating from the British West Indies.
Bronwyn Rennex. Life with Birds: A Suburban Lyric. Perth: Upswell Publishing, 2022. A memoir that includes poetry and photographs, such as family snapshots and images of a diary. From the publisher’s website: “Told in fragments, it contains a mix of speculation, imagination and guesswork. The reader fills in gaps just as the author has had to. Rather than describing her mother’s grief at her father’s death, Rennex uses her love letters to him alongside her claim for a war widow’s pension.”
Ellis Sharp. Alice in Venice. York: Zoilus Press, 2022. Sharp’s photo-embedded novella is titled to remind us of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while its only characters—Alice and Alain—overtly track Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 film “Don’t Look Now” throughout Venice. Roeg’s film, in turn, was based on Daphne du Maurier’s last short story of the same name. “Alice feels as if she’s wandered into Roeg’s film.” Sharp’s writing is deliberately disjointed, giving the novella, which is written in the present tense, a hectic feeling. There are scores of b&w photographs of Venice by the author.
Visible: Text + Image. San Francisco: Two Lines Press, 2022. Six short stories that use images in innovative ways. Five of these stories use photographs. Mexican writer Veronica Gerber Bicecci’s “Words and Images” (translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney) contains both drawings and photographs. French writer Marie NDiaye’s “Step of a Feral Cat” (translated from the French by Victoria Baena) contains a single photograph. Mexican writer Rodrigo Flores Sanchez’s selection of poems from “Closed Window” (translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers) includes several photographs printed as negatives. Polish writer Monika Sznajderman’s selection from “The Pepper Forgers” (translated from the Polish by Scotia Gilroy) contains a number of old family photographs (plus reproductions of the backs of each photograph that show the handwritten notes found there). Martinican writer Monchoachi’s poem “The beautiful dream that we unfold and extend” (translated from the French by Eric Fishman) contains a number of b&w photographs by David Damoison.