From Reality to Fiction: A Journey by Real-Life Photographers to the Pages of Novels

By Michael Shapter.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: March 16, 2017 $US5.00

The first mention of photography in a novel comes in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s “The House of the Seven Gables” (1851), although there was a prescient mention of a nonexistent process wherein an image is formed on canvas in “Giphantie” (1760) by Charles-Francois Tiphaigne de la Roche. Following on from there photography has been a frequent theme for writers. There have been many stories published that feature a photographer, a photograph (or series of photographs), or some aspect of photography (still and moving). In these novels, some of the aspects of photography are described accurately; in others not so. Only conventionally published novels have been reviewed during this research; e-books have not been included. In many instances the photographer portrayed in novels is a fictional character fully drawn by the author. However, in other novels the author takes detail from real life to plump his or her character, and it is this situation on which the current analysis draws. This study encompasses real-life photographers: August Sander in Richard Power’s “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance” (1984), Louis J.-M. Daguerre in Dominic Smith’s “The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre” (2006), Edwards S. Curtis in Marianne Wiggans’ “The Shadow Catcher” (2007), Edward Steichen in Emily Mitchell’s “The Last Summer of the World” (2007), Roger Fenton in Matthew Plampin’s “The Street Philosopher” (2008), and E. J. Bellocq in several novels including David Fulmer’s “Chasing the Devil’s Tail” (2001) and Rampart Street (2006), Frederick Turner’s “Redemption” (2006), as well as Michael Ondaatje’s “Coming through Slaughter” (1977). There is scant information about the life of several of these photographers, while others have several biographies from which the writer might draw. Where photographs of these six photographers exist they can, like all photographs, be misleading. Where facts are scare, the authors—as they should and can do in novels—broaden the brushstrokes from imagination. This essay describes the placement of real-life photographers in works of fiction and how the facts and the fictions relate. By implication, it argues the need for an accurate representation of the real-life character when the known facts are available, even if a novel is a vehicle for fiction.

Keywords: Photographers, Novels, Photography, Writing, History

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 8, Issue 2, June 2017, pp.45-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: March 16, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 474.705KB)).

Dr. Michael Shapter

Post-Graduate Student and Doctoral Candidate in Creative Writing, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia