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The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age by David Okuefuna

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Drop everything and rush out to your local bookshop! Utterly gorgeous, it’s the eagerly awaited (by me) companion book for the BBC Four series on Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet project.

Photographs (autochromes being a particular favorite) are a passion of mine, and these are stunning.

Inventing a process to create stable colour photographs was no small thing. Black and white photography had existed for over fifty years before the Lumière brothers finally came up with the autochrome process around the turn of the century. The mystery ingredient: potato starch! Another reason to love the lowly tuber… Autochromes continued as the standard until well into the 1930s. Don’t miss the lovely selection of photos on the website for the book.

If you’re in Paris, the Musée Albert-Kahn has a new exhibit on India (with photos taken between 1913 and 1928).

Musée Albert-Kahn : 14 rue du Port in Boulogne-Billancourt 92100
Métro stop: Boulogne Pont de Saint Cloud (on the #10 line) just 2 stops beyond the official city limits…

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Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Unfortunately, I can’t get my hands on a copy of this book. (?!?) For now, I’ll just have to make do with this article that I found in the LA Times. If the article is any indication, it promises to be a very interesting read.

In April of 1819, right around the time that he began to suffer the first symptoms of tuberculosis — the disease that had already killed his mother and his beloved brother, Tom — the poet John Keats sat down and wrote, in a letter to his brother, George, the following question: “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?”

…We need sorrow, constant and robust, to make us human, alive, sensitive to the sweet rhythms of growth and decay, death and life.

There was a magnificent exhibit in Paris a couple of years ago on the theme of melancholy with around 250 works (mostly paintings). Here’s a very good article about it with some excellent historical background.

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Pamuk: prophet or poseur? by

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

This is a review of a book review.

Apparently Orphan Pamuk is cleaning out his closets and has swept the oddments into a new book: Other Colors.

Just in case his name doesn’t ring any bells, he’s a Turkish writer who won the Nobel for literature in 2006. (I was a bit miffed, as I could make a list of people I think deserve it more.) I read Snow and thought it was passable. I came across a review of his new book by chance and was skimming through the beginning, which listed his creds when I bumped into this:

Pamuk is a talented writer, but no one in his right mind believes this was an award based on literary merit.

Ooow. Now she’s caught my interest. A lot of book reviewers tirelessly swoon about many an emperor’s tattered or non-existent garments. It frequently feels like a cosy, elite club. Everyone knows a certain author is brilliant and so everyone praises and grovels and they are obviously floating in the same ethereal circles since they’re brilliant enough to appreciate such talent.

And even holier, is when all this is done for political reasons. Sometimes a… not a hero exactly, but a face, a representative for a certain idea or movement is needed. (Sadly, many truly heroic people are overlooked — I can’t help but think of Hrant Dink: obit and excerpts from his last article.)

So openly criticizing the writings of the symbol of intellectual freedom in Turkey is not something most are prepared to do.

Enter Claire Berlinski:

The collection has been received with rapture by many critics, who celebrate this offering as a unique window into Pamuk’s interior life. Indeed, it is precisely that. Unfortunately, it seems that Pamuk’s interior life is largely that of a lugubrious poseur.

Now here is someone not afraid to have their own opinion.

For page upon page, Pamuk stresses in these self-enamoured tones that he is a man who really likes to read books. Good ones, too, by famous writers like Dostoyevsky and Borges - not, you know, easy ones. He’s different from other Turks, you see. But he’s not like the Europeans, either. He’s an outsider, eternally apart, rejected by all, accepted by no one (the Nobel committee aside). Life hurts. A seagull croaks.

Oh, I almost peed myself at that last line.

“Time passes,” Pamuk scribbles in his notebook. “There’s nothing. It’s already nighttime. Doom and defeat. … I am hopelessly miserable. … I could find nothing in these books that remotely resembled my mounting misery.” I suppose sentiments like these are not uniquely Turkish; teenagers around the world fill their diaries with this kind of drivel. But usually they read those diaries when they grow up, cringe, then throw them out along with their old Morrissey albums.

But the rest of the book is the kind of thing you can only publish if you have won a Nobel Prize and feel entirely confident that no matter what you say, everyone will buy it and the critics will be too afraid to point out the obvious: Sometimes it is best to keep your interior life to yourself.

Read the witty and well-written article here on her website. I plan to check out her new book. And don’t miss the gorgeous photo slideshow of the stray cats of Istambul (her partner is a photo journalist).

So, thanks to a delightful and thoughtful review, I’ve discovered a new author. A good day.

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The Rash Adventurer by Imogen Grundon

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

I haven’t read this! I’ve just run across an intriguing review and added it to my list. (How will I wait a whole year for the paperback??)

How could I never have heard of John Pendlebury? He sounds magnificent. And he was in charge of excavations at Tell el-Amarna (Akhenaten’s city!).

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