Saturday, March 6, 2010

What Paris and Nebaj Have in Common.

Perhaps it is because I have a book coming out that two articles in today's Financial Times caught my attention.

In the first, How to judge a book by its cover (FT, March 7, 2010, Life and Arts, p. 18), Edwin Heathcote reviews the cover art of Three Tragedies, a compendium of Federico García Lorca's Bodas de Sangre, Yerma and La Casa de Bernarda Alba (New Directions, NY, 1955) by illustrator Alvin Lustig. According to Heathcote, Lustig's covers were credited with tripling New Direction's sales of serious literary fiction. Although some believed that Lustig's real talent lay in painting, an endeavor Lustig never pursued as a profession, Heathcote remarks that by designing books, Lustig attained an immortality that may have escaped him otherwise.

Lucía Menéndez is designing Guatemala: Eterna Primavera, Eterna Tiranía. I never realized how intense design can be until, during a Skype call earlier this week, Lucía panned her apartment, which was lined with photographs from the book. I will post a photo of Lucía's apartment in a later entry.

The second FT article, Snapshots of a lost Paris, (FT, March 7, 2010, Life and Arts, p. 19) is excerpted from author Eric Hazan's book, The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps (Verso Press U.S., 2010, $30). Although it principally is a history of photography in Paris, from 1838 on, what struck my attention was the section devoted to the work of Charles Manville, an illustrator turned photographer who was commissioned in 1865 to photograph Paris' old roads, before they were destroyed to make way for the -- oft-despised -- architectural metamorphosis of Paris. Hazan writes that Manville's photographs of the old Paris on the eve of its disappearance, "without any detectable sentimentality (no human beings), "rendered the photographs all the more striking." "The demolition was under way," Hazan writes, "but here were the old corner posts, the little shops, the paving whose irregularity was fashioned over centuries, the bars, the cant walls with bay windows, the lamp posts, the signboards, the courtyards -- a whole world would disappear."

I wondered if Manville foresaw the historical importance of his 425 photographs; Hazan notes that these photographs are the only ones that today exist of pre-Haussmann Paris. This reminded me of Edweard Muybridge's work in Guatemala. Did Muybridge foresee how valued his photographs of Guatemala's Metropolitan Cathedral, then under construction, or the 19th century view of Antigua would be, and how these photos were destined to become more cherished, with time?

When I photographed Guatemala 25 years ago, I thought I was photographing a war. It never occurred to me that anyone would look at the photos later and say, "This is what Nebaj looked like before the roads were paved."

Link to The Invention of Paris by Eric Hazan:
(Note: When I went on the amazon Website, I realized that this is not a photography book; there are only 20 b/w illustrations. However, it looks fascinating just the same. List price is $30; $21 on

Link to FT Article on Hazan's Book: