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Reviewed by:
  • Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway
  • Sarah Driscoll
Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway. By James Plath. New York: Turner Publishing, 2009. 216 pp. Cloth $39.95.

Ernest Hemingway always appreciated the power of a picture, even when his talents lay in an economy of words. Perhaps this was because his realism required an intense reliance on the eye. A reporter and journalist before developing into a writer of fiction, Hemingway never entirely separated "the real" from "the story" in his work, as evidenced by his often quite controversial style of fusing autobiography and fiction. For Hemingway, photographs could inform fiction. "Big Two-Hearted River," for instance, suggests how Hemingway emphasized a symbolically tangible landscape to inform a story. In his memoir A Moveable Feast, he describes Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company bookstore on 12 rue de l'Odeon, with its "tables and shelves of books, new books in the windows, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living" (31). He goes on to add that the photographs "all looked like snapshots [,] and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive" (31). Even as a young writer in the mid-1920s, Hemingway understood the photograph's ability to transcend a writer's mortality and give him a life beyond his fiction. Perhaps for this reason Hemingway was never camera-shy. Maybe he believed that photographs would sustain his mythos more than his fiction ever could.

James Plath contributes to this photographic mythos in his new book, Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway (2009). An important addition to Leo Lania's Ernest Hemingway: A Pictorial Biography (1961) and Frederick Voss's Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Time (1999), Plath's book chronicles Hemingway's life in pictures, revealing a writer who willingly worked with photographers to create a visual autobiography. As Plath states in his preface, Hemingway "usually gave photographers what they wanted, allowing them to document his every move and every mood," frequently signing photos for friends and admirers (viii). Hemingway seemed to trust photographers more than reporters and critics, perhaps preferring photo shoots to the distortions of print journalism. As a result, Plath's collection implores readers to explore the visual images Hemingway helped construct and to stretch beyond his words to understand his life fully. The strength of this book, then, is the notion that one can construct biography as a visual col [End Page 183] lage, as well as its intimation that Hemingway is an American icon as much for his omnipresence in photographs as for his fiction.

Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway (2009) is divided into four sections or chapters of Hemingway's life. The first section, "From Oak Park to Paris," traces Hemingway's development both geographically and socially, covering his years from childhood through 1925. The section focuses on his Chicago and Michigan boyhood, his World War I experiences in Italy, and his wedding to Hadley Richardson, ending with their Paris years with their young son Bumby. There are also a few photos from Ernest and Hadley's time in Schruns, Austria, about which he writes fondly in A Moveable Feast. The book's first section delineates Hemingway's transformation from a family-oriented, provincial, Midwestern boy to a polyglot world traveller by the time he is twenty-six years old.

The second section, entitled "Writing and Other Adventures," expands on Hemingway's bildungsroman by detailing his life during the years 1926-1938, when he produced and published some of his most noteworthy fiction: The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), Green Hills of Africa (1935), and To Have and Have Not (1937). Additional travels and newfound activities—such as bullfighting, trophy fishing, and African big game hunting—also filled Hemingway's life during this period with many novel romantic adventures, many illustrated with photographs taken by Pauline Pfeiffer. Photos of Spain, Key West, Cuba, and Africa paint Hemingway as a man of mobility who developed a distinct geographical "id" for each place he visited. The Spanish photos seem to focus on "Hemingway and Co.", on Hemingway as a socialite with multiple friends with whom to attend corridas. On the other hand...


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pp. 183-186
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