Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Novels about photographers - Coming Through Slaughter

When the English Patient first came out (the book, not the movie), I went on something of a Michael Ondaatje bender, reading all his other books I could lay my hands on.

As much as I like the later Anil's Ghost, his two best novel are earlier ones - In the Skin of a Lion (which has inspired photographer Geoffrey James with it's descriptions of the city) and Coming Through Slaughter

I had completely forgotten that the latter has as a character the New Orleans photographer E. J. Bellocq, until Struan Gray reminded me. (Bellocq's glass plates were later "discovered" and printed and eventually published by Lee Friedlander in the book Storyville Portraits).

Bellocq isn't the main character, but is an important secondary one, and his photography of the notorious Storyville district New Orleans in the early 20th Century plays an important role in the story. It's certainly one of the best "jazz novels" out there, and also gives in intriguing part to photography in the story (but don't expect a nice tidy linear story with straightforward construction though...)

From the wiki entry on the book:

"The novel is a fictionalised version of the life of the New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. It covers the last months of Bolden's sanity in 1907, as his music becomes more radical and his behaviour more erratic. A secondary character in the story is the photographer E. J. Bellocq. Both these historical figures are portrayed in ways that draw on their actual lives, but which depart from the facts in order to explore the novel's central theme – the relationship between creativity and self destruction.

The novel draws on the style of jazz, being structured in a fragmented, and "syncopated" form, with episodes extending in elongated "riffs" before suddenly lurching unpredictably into an apparently unrelated scene. The structure also conveys Bolden's own wild, fragmenting personality, as his schizophrenia takes hold. Bolden's manic, extrovert but self-harming behaviour is set against the introverted figure of Bellocq, who expresses his own frustrated desires in his intimate erotic photographs, but then compusively violates them with scratches"

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