May 28, 2013

Quel Sougez! OG French Kids Photobooks


Emmanuel Sougez was a pioneering French photographer who created two of the earliest children's books to use photography.

Regarde! « Mes photos » and Alphabet were published in 1931 and 1932, respectively. Regarde! was basically a photo album of simple objects or scenes, somewhat akin to the book Edward Steichen made for his daughter in 1930, The First picture book, Everyday things for babies. [Though there's no evidence that Sougez or his publisher Henri Jonquières knew about Steichen's book.]


Alphabet, meanwhile, featured photos as illustrations for each letter of the alphabet. The book was published in three languages: French, English, and German, which doctoral candidate Juliette Lavie interprets as a post-WWI gesture of European unity and rapprochement.


Lavie wrote a very thorough analysis of Sougez's children's books for the literary journal Textimage. She situates the books' design and the auteur credit given to Sougez for Alphabet within the context of the larger, European context of modernist graphic design, specifically the work of Jan Tschichold and the principles of Ozenfant and Jeanneret.


She notes how the books' square form matched the negatives from Sougez's Rolleiflex, and she wades into the avant-garde typographers' disputes over the propriety of lower-case letters. I have to say, it is the single longest article I have ever read about a children's book. Also, maybe it's because it's in French, and I didn't want to slog through a crappy Google translated version.


Anyway, point is, iconic and innovative photo books, rare today, and now one of each is turning up at auction in Berlin next week.


Oh, wait, no, the point is, SACRE BLEU, is C really for Chinois, and I for Indien? And the photos are of a white kid drawing a Coolie, and mannequin from the Museum of Savages or whatever? C'est la France, mon vieux.

5 Jun 2013, LOT 4441: Sougez, Emmanuel Alphabet, 1932, est. € 2.000 []
LOT 4441: Sougez, Emmanuel Regarde!, 1931, est. €1.500 []
ALPHABET d'Emmanuel Sougez: une œuvre manifeste? par Juliette Lavie [revue-textimage]

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