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Proust in the Power of Photography

Translated by Richard Howard
One of the most original and memorable photographers of the twentieth century, Brassaï was also a journalist, sculptor, and writer. He took great pride in his writing, and he loved literature and language-French most of all. When he arrived in Paris in 1924, Brassaï began teaching himself French by reading Proust. Captured by the sensuality and visual strategies of Proust’s writing, Brassaï soon became convinced that he had discovered a kindred spirit. Brassaï wrote: "In his battle against Time, that enemy of our precarious existence, ever on the offensive though never openly so, it was in photography, also born of an age-old longing to halt the moment, to wrest it from the flux of duration in order to ’fix’ it forever in a semblance of eternity, that Proust found his best ally." He quoted Proust in his own writing, and from the annotated books in his library, we know that he spent a lifetime studying and dissecting Proust’s prose, often line by line.

Drawing on his own experience as a photographer and author, Brassaï discovers a neglected aspect of Proust’s interests, offering us a fascinating study of the role of photography both in Proust’s oeuvre and in early-twentieth-century culture. Brassaï shows us how Proust was excessively interested in possessing portraits of his acquaintances and how the process by which he remembered and wrote was quite similar to the ways in which photographs register and reveal life’s images. This book-beautifully translated by Richard Howard-features previously obscure photographs from Brassaï’s High Society series and offers a rare glimpse into two of France’s most fascinating artistic minds.

176 pages | 16 duotones | 6 x 7-1/2 | © 2001

Art: Photography

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages

Table of Contents

I Photography in Proust’s Life
1 Birth of a Passion
2 Exchanges of Photographs
3 The Role of Photography in Proust’s Artistic Formation
II Keys for the Search
4 The Giant Photograph of the Knights of Malta
5 The Portrait of Berma
6 To Win Back Her Husband, Gilberte Obtains Photographs of His Mistress
7 Saint-Loup’s Disappointment
8 The Longed-for Photograph of Gilberte Swann
9 Miss Sacripant, the "Lady in Pink," and Odette: One and the Same Person
10 The Fascinating Duchess de Guermantes
11 When Marcel’s Grandmother Poses for Saint-Loup
12 The Profaned Photograph of Vinteuil
13 The Photograph of Charlus Puts Morel to Flight
14 Reincarnations
III The Influence of Photography on Proust’s Thought
15 A Photographer’s Studio
16 Reportage
17 A Lens of Variable Focal Length
18 Chronophotography
19 An A-human Vision
20 Photography at the Origin of Proustian Relativism
21 From Latent Image to Involuntary Memory

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