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A Box of Photographs

Translated by Alice Kaplan
Most attempts to generalize about photography as a medium run up against our experience of the photographs themselves. We live with photos and cameras every day, and philosophies of the photographic image do little to shake our intimate sense of how we produce photographs and what they mean to us. In this book that is equal parts memoir and intellectual and cultural history, French writer Roger Grenier contemplates the ways that photography can change the course of a life, reflecting along the way on the history of photography and its practitioners.
Unfolding in brief, charming vignettes, A Box of Photographs evokes Grenier’s childhood in Pau, his war years, and his working life at the Gallimard publishing house in Paris. Throughout these personal stories, Grenier subtly weaves the story of a lifetime of practicing and thinking about photography and its heroes—Henri Cartier-Bresson, Weegee, Alfred Eisenstaedt, George Brassaï, Inge Morath, and others. Adding their own insights about photography to the narrative are a striking range of writers, thinkers, and artists, from Lewis Carroll, Albert Camus, and Arthur Schopenhauer to Susan Sontag, Edgar Degas, and Eugène Delacroix. Even cameras themselves come to life and take on personalities: an Agfa accompanies Grenier on grueling military duty in Algeria, a Voigtlander almost gets him killed by German soldiers during the liberation of Paris, and an ill-fated Olympus drowns in a boating accident. Throughout, Grenier draws us into the private life of photographs, seeking the secrets they hold for him and for us.
A valedictory salute to a lost world of darkrooms, proofs, and the gummed paper corners of old photo albums, A Box of Photographs is a warm look at the most honest of life’s mirrors.

120 pages | 16 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2013

Art: Photography

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages


“Through charming anecdotes, Grenier blends his own history with that of photography, and explains how the medium has influenced his entire life. He begins with early photographic history and its practitioners and smoothly weaves these histories into his own memories. However, since Grenier developed film in his family’s pharmacy-cum-photo lab, his connection to photography goes well beyond mere appreciation. . . . Recommended for those who practice or appreciate photography and its history.”

Library Journal

"Delightful. . . . This short book--just over a hundred pages and illustrated with snapshots--contains multitudes."

William Boyd | Times Literary Supplement, Books of the Year

Table of Contents

“Talking about photography . . .”
Posing for Portraits
Baby Box
A Summer in the Lab
Negative of a Nude
All That’s Left Is the Smile
Because of a Leica
A New Agfa
On the Téléphérique
A Photo of the Train Station at Tarbes
The Poor Man’s Rollei
A Victim of Heidegger
The Curse of the Voigtländer
Another Woman and a Leica
One of the Fine Arts
The Jar
Charles Dullin’s Bedroom
The Saxophonist
One, Two, Three!
The Canon and the Photographer
The Beach at Ostia
An Angel of the Streets
News Photos
Gisèle’s Grudge
Police Interference
To Each His Photographer
An Official Image
A Source
In Exile
The Swan Song of the Olympus
Of Dogs and Goats
The Dialectic of the Portrait
Translator’s Note
Translator’s Acknowledgments

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