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.