A Day with Picasso

Billy Kluver, Author, Jean Cocteau, Photographer
Billy Kluver, Author, Jean Cocteau, Photographer MIT Press (MA) $30 (109p) ISBN 978-0-262-11228-4
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Paperback - 128 pages - 978-0-262-61147-3
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On a pleasant August day in 1916, members of Paris's avant-garde gathered to talk about the Salon d'Antin, an exhibition where, along with paintings by Matisse, Rouault and Derain, Picasso had just displayed his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Jean Cocteau, recently returned from the front, decided to take his camera to lunch and spent the day taking snapshots of Picasso with Max Jacob, Andre Salmon and other exhibitors--Moise Kisling, Marie Wassilieff, Modigliani et al.--as they cavorted around Montparnasse. During the next seven decades, the photos dispersed, some almost forgotten. Enter Kluver, whose chance encounter with a few of these photos launched him into an obsessive pursuit of forensic photography. The book recounts his painstaking analyses: calculating the hourly angles of the Paris sun, measuring architectural details and the shadows they cast, his dogged sleuthing on the summer whereabouts of the people portrayed. His inquiry extended yet further to determine the exact camera (a Brownie) and type of film Cocteau used. This enormous investigation, triggered in 1986 and culminating in this book a decade later, affirms that, indeed, we can reconstruct a small slice of history down to some very picayune details. The characters involved, whose biographical sketches are included, are charismatic enough to command an audience, if only for a speculative four hours of their life. As with other extravagant conceits, readers are likely to be left amazed by Kluver's monomania, but ultimately unaffected. (Nov.)
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