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Photography-Embedded Literature – Before 1970

Georges Rodenbach. Bruges-la-Morte. Marpon & Flammarion, Paris 1892.

When William Henry Fox Talbot invented the first photographic process that used a negative and created prints on paper in 1839, it didn’t take him long for him to then issue the first commercially published book using photographs, The Pencil of Nature, which came out in several parts between 1844 and 1846. But it took almost another half century before a writer decided to take the leap and add photographs to his or her own novel, to add something that the public thought of as an image taken directly from real life to a work of fiction. That came in 1892, with Georges Rodenbach’s Symbolist Bruges-la-Morte. But even then, then idea of combining words and texts in fiction didn’t really grab the imagination of novelists for a few more decades until Europe’s Surrealists saw the photograph as a way of fracturing the meaning of their texts. Poets, on the other hand, more quickly saw the possibilities of books which linked images and poems thematically.

Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in the years before 1970 which contain embedded photographs. Needless to say, I have not personally examined a few of the more rare titles here. By the term “embedded photographs,” I mean photographs that are intended by the author as a part of the original “text.” You can see bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo. This is the only such bibliography of its type that I am aware of. I have no doubt that it omits titles that I have not heard of. If you know of a book that I have not mentioned regardless of the year published, please let me know in a comment.

A special note about volumes of poetry that were published between roughly 1890 and 1930 with pictorialist photographs. There were countless volumes of such books; I include only a few examples in order to call attention to this popular genre. During this era (and even a little later), there were many books of poetry that were paired with pictorialist photographs, photographs that were often created by the authors themselves. Perhaps the most famous example is The Rubiyát of Omar Kháyyám (see 1905 and 1912), of which there were many editions with extraordinary images added by well-known illustrators, such as Elihu Vedder, Edmund Dulac, Willy Pogany, James Gilbert, Ronald Balfour, Annie Harriet Fish, Frank Brangwyn, and others. But only several editions had photographs. [Last updated August 20, 2022.]

1892

Georges Rodenbach. Bruges-la-Morte. Paris: Flammarion, n.d. Starting with its first publication in 1892, there were many editions of this title over the years. Editions can contain differing numbers of photographs—or even no photographs at all. The edition that I examined declared that it contained thirty-five photographs, which it described as “Similigravures par Ch. –G. Petit et Cie, d’apres les clichés des maisons Levy et Neurdein.” Bruges-la-Morte is probably the most famous and influential of the first novels published which included photographs. Today, more than 125 years later, the book is still in print in multiple editions. I have written about Rodenbach and his groundbreaking book multiple times, but the best place to start is here.

Robert Burns Wilson. The Shadows of the Trees. NY: R.H. Russell (beautifully printed at Boston’s Merrymount Press), 1898. Wilson’s poems are interspersed with twelve lush full-page photogravures of landscapes and clouds. Although unattributed, the photographs are modestly prescient of Alfred Stieglitz’s “equivalents,” his groundbreaking photographs of clouds and of Ansel Adams’s later landscapes.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Poems of Cabin and Field. NY: Dodd, Mead, 1899. Dunbar’s poetry is illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club. This is one of several titles of Dunbar’s poetry illustrated with photographs by members of the same Camera Club, which was led by Leigh Richmond Miner, who was white, in spite of the fact that the Hampton Institute as an all African American school.

1900s

Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Maurine. Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1901. Wheeler’s book-length poem is illustrated with half tone photographs credited as “Life Studies by Jans Matzene” and “Views by Eugene J. Hall.”

Joseph Battell. Ellen or The Whisperings of an Old Pine. Middlebury, CT: American Publishing Co., 1901. A truly eccentric piece of American writing. Basically a Platonic dialogue between a teenaged girl and the narrator, who happens to be an old pine tree. Topics range across history and science. Numerous b&w photographs.

The Rubiyát of Omar Kháyyám. NY: Dodge Publishing, 1905. With stunningly beautiful photogravure plates in thin tissue paper from photographs by Adelaide Hanscom. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. The book was republished in Great Britain in 1908 by George G. Harrap & Co.

Sidney Lanier. Hymns of the Marshes. NY: Scriber’s, 1907. The thirteen photographs by Henry Troth were “taken near Brunswick, Georgia, where the poet derived his inspiration for the Hymns of the Marshes.”

William A. Quayle. God’s Calendar. Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1907. Poems with thirteen beautiful photogravures by Charles S. Parmenter and F.A. Carrier.

Laurence Hope. Songs from the Garden of Kama. London: William Heinemann, 1909. Poetry with settings in India, illustrated with tipped-in half-tone photographs by Mrs. Eardley-Wilmot. The gravure frontispiece is a nice portrait of the author “Laurence Hope” (a pseudonym for Adela Florence Nicolson Cory [1865-1904]).

E.V. L[ucas] & G[eorge] M[orrow]. What a Life!: An Autobiography. London: Methuen, 1911.  A satirical look at upper class British life using illustrations taken from Whiteley’s General Catalogue (Whiteley’s was a department store). There are several modern reprints from 1975 on.

1910s

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1912. Illustrated with thirty-eight photographs by Mabel Eardley-Wilmot.

1920s

S.H.M. Byers. The Bells of Capistrano and Other Romances of the Spanish Days in California. Los Angeles: Potter Brothers, c. 1920. The story is accompanied by drawings credited to Langdon Smith and several uncredited photographs of the mission of Capistrano.

Ricciotto Canudo. La Roue d’Abel Gance. Paris?: Pathé Film Film Consortium, J. Ferenczi and son, 1923. 2 volumes. Canudo’s novelization of the Abel Gance film La Roue is illustrated by stills from the film. Canudo was an early film theorist. See more about this book here.

Ricciotto Canudo. L’Autre Aile. Paris, Eugène Fasquelle, 1924. A “roman visuel” or visual novel based on a now-lost film, using stills from the original film. Images from the book may be seen here.

Illustration from The Story of Faridah Hanom.

Syed Sheikh Syed Ahmad al-Hadi. Hikayat setia asyik kepada masyukny, atau, Syafik Efendi dengan Faridah Hanum (The Story of Faridah Hanom). (2 vols.) Penang, Malaysia: Jelutong Press, 1925 & 1926. A risque romance that takes place in fin-de-siècle Cairo. According to Simon Soon, the “photographs chosen to accompany the story are likely celebrity portraits clipped from magazines.” See: https://post.moma.org/rearranging-the-eros-of-material-life-specular-composition-in-the-annals-of-archipelagic-modernism/

Benjamin Fondane. Trois Scenarii: ciné-poèmes. Paris: Documents internationaux de l’Esprit Nouveau, 1928. Three “ciné-poèmes” with two photographs by Man Ray. For more on this book see here.

Virginia Woolf. Orlando.  London: Hogarth Press, 1928. Orlando is illustrated with eight images, four of which represent paintings in the collection at Knole (then owned by Vita Sackville-West) and four of which are photographs made specifically for the book. The purported historical photographs are each styled differently, with the portrait of Angelica Bell as a Russian princess hearkening back to the 19th century photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, Virginia Woolf’s great aunt. Surprisingly, Orlando represents one of the few photographically-illustrated novels for which some of the photographs were also fictionalized, with real people posing as characters from the novel. Not every edition of this book includes the photographs, notably the Hogarth Press’s own 1933 “Uniform” edition. I wrote more about this novel here.

Louis Aragon, Bernjamin Péret & Man Ray. 1929. Brussels: éditions de la revue Variété, 1929. Rather crude poems by Aragon and Péret and four tipped-in, sexually-explicit photographs of Kiki of Montparnasse and a male (probably Man Ray). A limited edition of 160 (plus deluxe copies) was printed, but most were seized and destroyed by French customs. 1929 has been reprinted several times since 1993 in both the French original and an English translation. The version on the right is from the Alyscamps 1996 English translation.

1930s

Claude Cahun.  Aveux non Avenus.  Paris: Editions du Carrefour, 1930. Probably a collaborative work by Cahun [born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob] and her partner Suzanne Malherbe [born Marcel Moore]. The book consists of Cahun’s “poem-essays” and a number of photomontages that, apparently, both women worked on.

John Louis Spivak. Georgia Nigger. New York: Brewer, Warren and Putam, 1932. Reprinted with updates in 2012, as Hard Times on a Southern Chain Gang. Contains a photographic frontispiece and an appendix of “Illustrations” that consists of reproductions of original documents and eight more photographs by Spivak himself. A journalist, Spivak intended his novel to verify the horrors of his fictionalized account of the Georgia prison system and the mistreatment of black prisoners. The papers relating to the writing of this book are held at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

Jindřich Štyrský.  Emilie přichází ke mně ve snu.  Prague: Kveten, 1933. An extremely rare Czech Surrealist text with erotic photomontages and photocollages by the author. This has been reprinted in redesigned formats at least twice—by Verlag Neue Kritik (Frankfort) in 1994 and Torst (Prague) in 2001. The title translates very roughly as “Emily comes to me in a dream.” The image is from the Torst edition.

Paul Éluard & Man Ray.  Facile.  Paris: G.L.M., 1935.  Poems by Éluard with photographs by Man Ray. Image from the facsimile reprint in 2004 by La Bibliothèque des Introuvables, Paris. Man Ray’s photographs are of Éluard’s new wife Nusch Éluard. As Parr and Badger write in The Photobook: A History, Éluard, Man Ray, and Nusch “make a perfect ménage à trois in this book–an alliance of words, photographs and a corps exquis.” The book can be viewed here.

Armer, Laura Adams. The Trader’s Children. NY: Longmans, Green & Co., 1937. A story for young adults with photographs by the author. The photographs are very reminiscent of those made by the more famous Laura Gilpin. One of several such books by Armer.

Andre Breton. l’Amour Fou. Paris: Gallimard, 1937. Breton’s second photo-embedded Surrealist novel has twenty b&w photographs by Dora Maar, Man Ray, Brassai, and André Rogi. It is, in part, a fictionalized version of his love for his second wife Jacqueline Lamba and the daughter they had together.

Lise Deharme. Le Couer de Pic. Paris: Librairie Jose Corti, 1937. Thirty-two poems (not really for children) by Deharme illustrated with twenty Surrealistic photographs by Claude Cahun (Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob).

Miguel Hernández. Viento del pueblo: Poesía en la guerra. Madrid: Socorro Rojo, 1937. Poems about the Spanish Civil War with eighteen photographs, mostly by the Andalusian photographer Tréllez (about whom I have not learned anything). Hernández apparently worked hard to make the photographs fit within his philosophy of the anti-fascist peasant. There reportedly might be at least one photomontage included. The publisher has reprinted at least one facsimile of the first edition. There is an extensive essay (in Spanish) about the interrelationship between the book’s poems and photographs here.

1940s

Andre Breton. Nadja. Paris: Gallimard, 1945. A classic Surrealist novel with forty-four uncredited, b&w photographs. I have written about the book here.

Wright Morris.  The Inhabitants.  NY: Scribner’s, 1946. Wright Morris (1910-1998) was a true cross-over artist. He was an established novelist, who published nineteen novels and won the National Book Award for Fiction twice—in 1957 and again in 1981. And he had his photography exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art for the first time in 1941, and had five books devoted to his own photographs published. The Inhabitants was the first of three novels that Morris wrote, specifically intended to be accompanied by his own photographs. In general, this book is laid out with his images printed fully on one page and his ongoing text on the opposite, creating an equality between text and images that is rare. Morris followed this up with The Home Place in 1948.

Didier Desroches [pseud. for Paul Éluard and Dora Maar].  Le Temps Deborde.  Paris: Les Cahiers d’Art, 1947. Poems by Éluard and eleven photographs of his wife Nusch by Man Ray and Dora Maar. This book was a memorial to Nusch, who died from a stroke in 1946 at the age of forty.

Wright Morris.  The Home Place. NY: Scribner’s, 1948.  The second of Morris’s Depression-era photo-embedded novels follows a family who loses their home in New York and settles in Nebraska. Full-page images alternate with text throughout the book. A beautiful new edition was issued in 2018. Morris wanted to do yet another photo-embedded novel, but Scribner’s refused to let him. He eventually published a number of non-fiction titles that included his photography, but it wasn’t until 1980 that he was able to release his third and final novel with photographs, Plains Song: For Female Voices (Harper and Row). Morris’ 1999 book Time Pieces: Photographs, Writing, and Memory (Aperture) devotes several essays to the subject of combining images and text.

1950s

Robert Duncan and Jess Collins. Caesar’s Gate: Poems 1949–1950. Mallorca: Divers Press, 1955. Poems by Duncan illustrated with sixteen great Jess collages.

Langston Hughes & Roy DeCarava. The Sweet Flypaper of Life. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1955. Hughes selected forty-one of Roy DeCarava’s photographs of Harlem and built his story around the images.

Edwin Denby & Rudolph Burckhardt. Mediterranean Cities: Sonnets. NY: George Wittenborn, 1956. Sonnets by Denby, photographs by Burckhardt.

Anais Nin.  House of Incest.  Chicago: Swallow, 1958. Although the true first edition was published in Paris in 1936 and a limited first American edition came out in 1947, neither included Val Telberg’s photomontages. But since their inclusion in the 1958 Swallow edition, the images have routinely been included.

1960s

Marguerite Yourcenar. Memoirs of Hadrian. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1963. This now classic novel written in the form of a letter to Hadrian’s successor, Marcus Aurelius, contains a number of b&w photographs of sculptures, bas-reliefs, coins, and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall. I feel sure they are meant as illustrations in the traditional way in which images relate to text in in non-fiction books. Every edition of Memoirs since the first has included an extensive “Bibliographical Note” and “Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian” by Yourcenar, neither of which touch upon the issue of including photographs in the book.

Judson Crews. You Mark Antony, Navigator upon the Nile. Taos: Este Es Press, 1964. Poems interspersed with full-page color photographs that appear to have been culled from nudist, girly, travel, and other magazines. While the book says the edition was limited to 500 copies, Crews is quoted as saying that only 350 copies were actually produced, and that each copy used a unique combination and placement of images. Crews published a number of similar titles, and this is a typical example of titles that he did via different small presses

Salvador Elizondo. Farabeuf, o La Crónica de un Instante. Guaymas: Editorial Joaquín Mortiz, 1965. A sado-erotic novel widely thought of as a masterpiece of Mexican literature, inspired both by Georges Bataille and the Nouveau Roman of Alain Robbe-Grillet and others. Farabeuf consists of shuffled and repeated scenes involving Dr. Farabeuf (a real-life famous 19th century French surgeon), a nurse/nun, a starfish, a Ouija board, one or more mirrors, and a house in Paris. The book contains a single photograph, a truly gruesome image of a Chinese woman being publicly tortured during the Boxer Rebellion, along with several small reproductions of images from one of Farabeuf’s surgical manuals and some Chinese characters.

William H. Gass. Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife. Evanston: Northwestern University, 1968. [TriQuarterly Supplement No. 2.] A now classic novella that uses photography inventively. I’ve written about this important book here.

Michael Pinney & John Miles. Night Flight. Dorset: Bettiscombe Press, 1968. An accordion-style book of photographs in which letters, words, and fragments of poems have been added to the images through scratching the negative and other means. One of several collaborative artist’s books made by these two. While I generally exclude artist’s books, this seemed like a nice example of image/text collaboration.

John Updike. Midpoint and Other Poems. NY: Knopf, 1969. Two sections of the long poem “Midpoint” (a poem that takes inventory at the supposed midpoint of the poet’s life at the age of 35) contain photographs. Section two—“The Photographs”—contains a very brief introductory argument followed by 21 carefully placed photographs of Updike and his family. Section four—“The Play of Memory”—includes eleven segments extracted from those photographs scattered throughout the text. My review of this book is here.

Albert Memmi. Le Scorpion. Paris: Gallimard, 1969. Memmi’s novel contains a number of photographs and several reproductions of artworks. It was translated into English in 1971. My review of this book is here.

Oh Muvie and Rosa von Praunheim (pseuds). Leidenschaften der Rosa von Praunheim. Frankfurt: Heinrich Heine Verlang, 1969. Said to be the first German fotoroman or photo novel, this book generally has full-page photographs facing pages of text. The book is about violence, crime, guns, and is all possibly a psychedelic dream.

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