Thursday, September 11, 2008

The ABCs of Paris

The Intro (be patient)
Continuing our theme this month of Text+Photo, I want to share a very special project with you. Twelve years ago, we were living in Paris. I was finishing the research for my PhD and teaching at the University of Versailles. Michelle and our year-old baby, Max, spent their days exploring the city. As a souvenir project, I worked on a series of black-and-white photos featuring the beautiful and ubiquitous wrought-iron of Paris. I soon finished the project and wanted to move on to something else. Then one day, our scary-smart baby gave me the idea...

I was playing blocks with baby Max and discovered that he had learned—without our help—the letters of the alphabet. I don't know how he managed that, but it gave me the perfect organizing principle for a new project: the time-honored tradition of the abécédaire. Remembering Victor Hugo's assertion (From Notre Dame de Paris) that "When ones knows how to see, one can find the spirit of a century and the physiognomy of a king in a door knocker," I set out to create an architectural primer on the ABCs of Paris. I photographed details of the city I love—details that resemble letters—and then later, I selected a word and quote from France's rich literary and cultural history to accompany each photo.

The project continued for years. I have done it and redone it. I have taken multiple versions of most letters. I finally made the whole thing into a mock-up of a book, using Asukabook. For me, it represents the perfect sampling of the city in an ABC book for lovers of Paris young and old. I submitted the book to Artisan books, but it didn't work. I tried Chronicle and I don't think the book made it past an intern in the mailroom (but I still love you anyway, Chronicle). Would the third time be the charm? I tried Assouline, a New York/Paris-based publisher specializing in beautiful luxury editions. Score! Or so I thought. The Manhattan office seemed to love it. Can I hold on to it and show Martine Assouline (co-founder) when she returns from Europe? Hmm. Let me think about that—Yes, of course. But no! Ultimately the dreaded We really love it, but it's not right for us at this time, response came. Finally, this July I walked into the offices of Parigramme and an elegant, polite, but blunt man told me that people just aren't buying books like this anymore. OK, if he says so I can't really argue that maybe ABC Paris would sell better than that book about the doors of Paris they put out last year.

So the project is in limbo. If you know a publisher that wants it, send them my way. Otherwise, I may end up trying to do a gallery showing, selling prints, making the whole alphabet (sans quotes, of course) into a poster...who knows?

The silver lining, however, is that I used my energy (born of frustration with the ABC project) to create take-out photo—a blog that gives me a chance to explore new ideas and themes each month. Since my ABC project combines the architectural theme from July's Monthly Special with the text theme of the September Monthly Special, I couldn't resist sharing some of my favorites:

Thoughts? Comments?


Danielle said...

the publishers are crazy, I would snatch up that book in an instant! I

Jane of JaneZworld said... would I . Tis charming. Don't give up.