This book connects Edgar Allan Poe’s story ‘The Man of the Crowd’ to an occurrence photographed in a Parisian street. The first part of the work is a series of 56 photographs, tracking a man who appears and disappears and reappears and disappears in a miscellaneous crowd of people drifting by through a street. The photoseries is followed by textworks which present further rewritings of Poe’s story.
In 1840 Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Man of the Crowd’ was published, one of the first detective stories, though the crime remains hidden. It is a story about an observer-narrator ‘I’ who sits at a coffee house in London and develops a curiosity about a striking old man he sees outside in the crowded streets. He decides to follow the old man (he could very well be seen as a proto-street-photographer). He follows him for an evening, a night, a day, a second evening. It appears that the old man keeps on walking and never leaves the crowd. The observer has to conclude that the old man cannot be read like the other people in the streets: ‘This old man,’ I said at length, ‘is the type and the genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd. It will be in vain to follow; for I shall learn no more of him, nor of his deeds. [...] es lässt sich nicht lesen.’ The German phrase that ends the story is also quoted at the beginning, making this a circular tale about the unreadable, in Poe’s words: ‘it does not permit itself to be read’.
The book picks up the story and places it in Paris, where I saw the man of the crowd in a street around the corner from Place Saint-Sulpice (where Georges Perec wrote his ‘An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Paris’ registering what normally is not registered). Rather than following him, I observed how he stood still while the environment around him changed. He disappeared and reappeared, and disappeared, while a mix of people drifted through the street. The scene was recorded with a simple point-and-shoot camera. All of the photographs taken were included in the book. The texts that follow the photoseries add another layer to the story. The first is an analysis of instances of the word ‘I’ in Poe’s story, reworking the story into a new poem. The second is a crowded street of words showing the whole story but also indicating places that remain unreadable. Both texts were made by applying linguistic analysis tools (concordance software) to the original story. The book ends with notes on the project. Each book is marked with a distinct word from Poe’s story, which limits the edition to the number of different words in the tale.
Published in Leerdam, The Netherlands, 2012. See more images of the book here.
Sewn, hardcover, linen with foilstamp. Full colour printing. 48 pages plus one foldout sheet. Size 23.5 x 19.5 cm / 9.25 x 7.7 inches. ISBN 978-90-807884-0-4. The price of the book is €50. Order through email or the webshop. The book can also be found at: Johan Deumens gallery in Amsterdam, Art Metropole in Toronto, Photoeye in Santa Fe, Photo Book Corner in Lisbon, LhGWR in The Hague.
Acquired amongst others by the Hasselblad Foundation.
This work is also available as an unbound artist book that is suitable for exhibition (edition of 14 copies).