In the early summer months before graduation there was great excitement in Proust’s neighborhood where the Statue of Liberty was being assembled in time to make a birthday gift to France’s oldest ally. The occasion for this magnificent gift to the United States was the centennial of the French Revolution, for the celebration of which Paris had planned a world’s fair.
On April 1, 1889, the City of Light inaugurated the fair’s and the world’s tallest structure that soared 984 feet (300 meters) into space. This controversial tower of indefinable symbolic value was something the likes of which no Frenchman had ever seen and for which most Parisians already felt contempt. This incredibly expensive curiosity had been erected on the Left Bank of the Seine by a friend of the Prousts, an engineer named Gustave Eiffel. The most famous monument in Paris—perhaps in the world—played an important role in the defense of the capital during World War I. Proust makes a reference to its importance in Time Regained in a scene where he finds comfort in the intermittent beams of light coming either from the searchlights of the Eiffel Tower or from airplanes as Paris defenselessly awaited the enemy.
Photographing Literary Landscapes
In 1913, Marcel Proust published Swann’s Way, the first part of his monumental novel In Search of Lost Time. He worked on his book for over fourteen years, writing seven volumes and creating many unforgettable characters. His novel encompasses many themes, love and jealousy, the snobbery of high society, the dangers of mistaking Eros for art, the stirrings of memory and the unstoppable nature of time. Since its publication, this vast novel continues to delight and inspire readers throughout the world.
The scenes depicted by Proust in the novel captivate his readers so much that many travel to visit the places that inspired him. These literary landscapes are to be found in Paris, Illiers-Combray, and Cabourg. I admire a writer’s ability to see a real object or place and make it visible to others through words. By using photography, I can return to the location that inspired the writer and capture the same landscapes as they continue to exist in time. The resulting juxtaposition of reality and art is a phenomenon that I find endlessly fascinating.