Saturday 5 April 2008


Sometimes you (by which I mean "I") buy a book even though you know nothing about the author or the writing. The cover is what grabs you. This book, a collection of poems by Brooks Haxton, leapt out at me from the shelf because of it's incredibly vivid blue cover.

It was a wise purchase, as the poems are wonderful. I especially like the title poem ('Nakedness, Death and the Number Zero'), which explores the "invention" of zero, and Archimedes' great bath-time discovery:

..Eureka! Naked into the sunlit streets of Syracuse,
he skipped forth, modestly cupping his genital
in one hand, shouting: Eureka! I have found!--it,
displacement volumetrics, being to Archimedes
understood. But onlookers could only cluck:
How sad, in middle age, to find one's genital,
and lose one's mind...

We're here to talk about covers, though, so let's look at this one. The image is a photograph, a cyanotone (hence the amazing blueness), entitled 'Blue Nude with a Braid', and it's by a photographer I'd never heard of called Paul Haviland. Some research turned up a very little about him: he was American, lived from 1880 to 1950, was mentored by Alfred Stieglitz, has never had a book of his work collected or published, and most of his work now belongs to the Musée d'Orsay in France. His middle name was, unfortunately, Burty.

Here are the three of his other photos I could find: click on them for a larger view.

That last image, a night cityscape of New York, is one I'm sure I've seen on another book cover, but I'm damned if I can find it now.

I did turn up a group shot which seems to include him: he's at the extreme left.

Anyway, it's these little bursts of research and discovery into new-to-me artists that is part of the pleasure of an interest in book covers. The number of painters and photographers I first encountered through the covers of Penguin Classics, for example, is rather high, and I know I'm not alone there.

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