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Road Map to Photo-Embedded Literature

You have probably landed here because you are curious about all of the links to the bibliography of “photo-embedded literature” on my blog Vertigo. On this page I will explain a bit about the contents, limits, and origins of the bibliography.

What does photo-embedded mean? I have defined photo-embedded literature as any novel or book of poetry (or, on occasion, a short story) which includes one or more photographs that are meant to be part of the text. By that I mean that the photographs were selected and placed in the text by the author or were approved by the author as part of a collaboration. Ideally, I am looking for the author’s intention to have the photographs considered as part of his or her original textual material. Thus, my desire has been to weed out those books in which it was the publisher who added photographs because images might enhance the contents and/or salability of the book. At times it is difficult, if not impossible to tell if it was the writer’s intention to place photographs in a certain book. In those cases, I generally opted to include the book in the bibliography.

What about artist’s books? For the sake of clarity, my collection generally excludes the vast world of artist’s books —those books created by visual artists that generally privilege the visual over the textural, although that’s a “rule” that’s broken continually. Basically, an artist’s book tends to fall under the category of “I know one when I see one.”

How does the bibliography work? In addition to an undergraduate degree in literature and a graduate degree in art history, I also received a Master’s degree in Library Science along the way, so I know my way around the science of bibliography. This is not a proper bibliography. It started out as an inventory of a book collection. I built a collection of more than 400 volumes of photo-embedded literature, which I sold in 2019. As I built the collection, I also started this rudimentary bibliography on Vertigo.

After I sold the collection, I have continued to actively maintain the bibliography as best as I could in a number of ways: scanning bookstores, reading many literary blogs, and using sources like Amazon to look for signs of photo-embedded literature. A number of Vertigo “informants” look for and let me know about such books whenever they identify one. There are times when I have not been able to see a book in person, but have seen clear evidence of at least one photograph in the text. In that case, I will add that to the bibliography with some sort of caveat. 

In thinking of how people might use this bibliography, I’ve tried to strike a balance between big, unwieldy files and too many small files. So, there are five files that cover the period from the 1870 through 2009. After that, every year has been given a file of its own. At some point in time, these may be lumped together in five-year periods.

Subsets. A listing of all Photo-Embedded Graphic Novels is also one of the options under the pull-down menu Photo-Embedded Literature. To see all similar books of poetry, click on Poetry with Embedded Photos under the Categories label on the right-hand side of the blog.

About translations. This bibliography is primarily focused on books in English. I always try to indicate when a book has been translated and what the original language was, but after putting an English translation into this bibliography I haven’t always added the original publication in the foreign language. However, a book does not have to be translated into English to be added to the bibliography; there are numerous foreign titles listed that have not been translated into English as of the time they were entered.

The origin of this project. In the late 1990s I became an obsessive collector of the books of W.G. Sebald, whose works of prose fiction contain an odd array of photographs—snapshots, postcards, ID photos, documentary images, and more. I found the addition of these images added something electric to the text. It was as if they literally added a new dimension to the way in which the book must be read. As a result of Sebald’s success, I began to see more authors from around the globe adding photographs to their novels and poems. This made me want to understand the history of how photographs had been previously used in works of fiction and poetry. So, shortly after Sebald’s death in 2001, I began researching and collecting works of fiction and poetry in which the author had included photographs as part of the text. I was surprised to find that some rather well-known writers, like John Updike, Anthony Burgess, Martin Amis, and Kobo Abe, had each produced at least one book with embedded photographs. But more surprising has been the global reach of this phenomena; my collection contains works by authors from more than twenty nationalities on six continents. My research has also uncovered a number of unexpected titles, such as Joseph Battell’s Ellen or The Whisperings of an Old Pine (1901), a truly eccentric piece of American writing in which a Platonic dialogue takes place between a teenaged girl and the narrator, who happens to be an old pine tree.

Where To Start. If the idea of putting photographs in books of fiction or poetry is new to you, I’ve got some suggestions on where to start. At Photo Embedded Fiction—The Seminal Works, I write about the six books that are among the best examples of photo-embedded fiction that also have been the most influential in creating an audience of receptive readers to this mix of media. And at Photo-Embedded PoetryWhere To Start, I write about several poets and several specific books of poetry that stand out in this area.

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Text/Image. In academic terms, photo-embedded literature falls under the rubric of Text/Image Studies, which investigates the larger world of how literary texts interact with all types of images.Here are a few titles to get you started.

Amihay, Ofra & Lauren Walsh, eds. The Future of Text and Image: Collected Essays on Literary and Visual Conjunctures. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. A collection of academic essays, only a few of which deal with photography.

Brunet, François. Photography and Literature. London: Reaktion Books, 2009.

Edwards, Paul. Soleil Noir: Photographie et Littérature. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008. A massive overview of the uses of photography in all types of books (not just literature) up to Surrealism.

Edwards, Paul. Perle noir; le photobook litteraire. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2016. Hardcover. This volume traces the history of the use of photography in literature since the discovery of photography. Extensive bibliography.

Hubert, Renée Riese. Surrealism and the Book. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. There are discussions of photography throughout this book.

Morris, Wright. Time Pieces: Photographs, Writing, and Memory. NY: Aperture, 1999. Collected essays by Morris, who published three books of photo-embedded fiction himself.

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