Alex Prud’homme is a freelance writer based in New York City. He has written on everything from food to biotech, terrorism, energy, the environment, art, and monster trucks for the New York Times, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Time. He has published seven books, most notably coauthoring Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, a best-seller that inspired half the movie Julie & Julia, and writing a follow-up called The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act.
Prud’homme will be reading from and signing copies of his latest, France Is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child, at Chaucer’s Books on Tuesday, November 7, at 7 p.m.
What role do you see for your new book? France Is a Feast is a book of Paul Child’s photographs — a visual extension of Julia’s memoir from his perspective, which makes it new and unique. Julia is, of course, an integral part of the narrative, but this book is focused on Paul’s talent as a visual artist and his unusual biography. “If variety is the spice of life, then I’ve lived a curry of a life,” he said.
You mention a number of photographers with whom Paul Child has at least a family resemblance, including Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Edward Weston. Can you talk a bit more about how you, and curator Katie Pratt, see Child in the context of mid-20th-century photography? We place Paul squarely in the tradition of those photographers. While he was stubbornly independent, Paul knew them in Paris and was surely affected by their work. He was particularly enamored of Weston’s spare aesthetic, and organized an exhibition of his photos: “Child and Weston are quite akin, I think,” he wrote.
Paul befriended Edward Steichen, who picked six of his photos for the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection (where they remain). Paul’s eye for cityscapes—the curve of a street, moody lighting, etc.—is reminiscent of Brassaï, and his ability to capture the “decisive moment” is reminiscent of Cartier-Bresson’s. Yet he constantly pushed himself to try new things and refine his own aesthetic.
Julia Child wasn’t conventionally beautiful, yet she makes a striking subject for photographs, and Paul clearly loved to take her picture. Why do you think the camera is so good to her? Julia wasn’t a fashion model, or a petite Frenchwoman, but her intelligence, humor, and charm made her attractive in other ways. These photos capture Julia a decade before she became famous, when she was experiencing “a flowering of the soul” after falling in love with France and its cuisine. She was naturally at ease in front of the camera, and in these shots her happiness and love of Paul shine through.
Not surprisingly, Julia was one of Paul’s favorite subjects, and his portraits of her range from quick snapshots to composed portraits: Some are intimate; others are documentary, or funny; and a few qualify as works of art. They called themselves “a team,” and here you can see why.