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Saturday 14 May 2022 – The Monocle Minute

On Wednesday it just rained and rained so I put off visiting the opening of Photo London all day. One of the pleasures of going to the annual fair is standing in the courtyard of Somerset House – after you have surveyed the booths, wondering whether you should spend your partner’s life savings on an impulsive purchase – and catching up with friends. Lingering alfresco, however, requires sunshine, preferably a spritz in hand, and the weather was not playing ball. But seeing as a big contingent of the Monocle team had been braver than me and put on raincoats and headed over throughout the afternoon, I finally layered up and joined them – and bingo, I timed it for just when damp day gave way to clear- sky evening. Matt, our photography director, was there with his team from him, along with Jack, our new editorial assistant, our books squad and Diego from retail. Scroll down and you’ll see Matt’s Picture of the Week.

One of the reasons for our presence en masse was the quiet public debut of The Monocle Book of Photography in the pop-up bookshop that’s being run by our publisher partner Thames & Hudson. And by a nice coincidence, the space is being managed by Rania Naufal, who used to run Papercup, a beautiful bookshop and café in Beirut that we often wrote about until the port explosion of 2020 ripped her store apart and broke her will to stay. (An aside: this week, Lebanese designer Rana Salam came by Midori House and told me that she had also packed up her life in Beirut and was now something of a nomad, not sure where and how to settle. And our friend, food advocate Kamal Mouzawak, is now in Paris; he’ll be onstage at the Monocle Quality of Life Conference in a few weeks’ time to explain why. So much talent, forced to find places to shelter from greed and corruption, and all the damage that they cause.)

But back to Rania, who is a force of nature and a very good seller too: there was just one of our books left when I arrived. And there was another coincidence here because one of the big photo essays in our book that she was doing so well at shifting was shot by Maria Klenner in Beirut after the blast that had dislodged her.

Having been a modest part of our new book’s journey to the bookshelf, I am more aware than ever of the power of photography done well – and not just imagery of conflict but fashion, architecture and portraiture too. Yet what makes a great picture, one that keeps pulling you in, that can resonate across the years, is harder to pin down. As the team gathered potential stories for our book, it was curious how one story still moved you while another seemed too much of its moment, a time capsule unable to break free. And I had the same feeling as I walked around Photo London. There’s wonderful work here: much dates back decades but nonetheless snares you. Others, however, seem destined to become background fodder in some corporate office lobby, soon to fade.

Matt has written about Frank Horvat’s 1962 picture of Carol Lobravico and he’s right about it being so damned fresh even now. (There’s a great show of Horvat’s work by him, from fashion to Paris by night, at Photo London.) But – and sorry to encroach on his territory by him – there’s another Horvat, taken the same year, that does a similar trick. It was shot in Rome for Harper’s Bazaar and is of author Alberto Moravia and model China Machado, the first woman of color to appear on the cover of a major US fashion magazine and a Givenchy house model in the 1950s. Moravia is dressed in a three-piece suit and holding a fat, sleeping cat. Machado, hair coiffed, in an immaculate twinset, is standing behind him. Both are looking away from the lens. It’s a perfect picture and it’s hard to believe that this is 60 years ago, that these people are long dead. They should surely be able to walk out of that picture, be here. And they wouldn’t have to change a thing to be the chicest people in the room (well, perhaps they’d have to let the kitty wander off). It’s then, it’s now.

This is the stuff that intrigues: how do we capture time in both words and pictures so that they don’t fade? How do we stop the past or places that we don’t know well from seeming so distant, so alien? How do we leave something in our wake that will serve others well? Big stuff but I hope that some of this fretting has helped to make our book as good as I think it is and allowed us to tell – and retell – stories of people in places from Beirut to Busan in a way that allows them to appear able to walk off the page and confront us and our emotions afresh.

‘The Monocle Book of Photography’ isavailable now.

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