Ernest Hemingway left an impression on Paris unlike any other writer working in the English language, to the point where his mark has almost become pollution. A vast number of guides and walking tours exist that claim to offer a glimpse into his city, an industry the man himself would no doubt have thoroughly disapproved of.
I’m not particularly fond of Hemingway the writer, and even less enamoured of the man himself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the recent book by photographer Robert Wheeler, Hemingway’s Paris: A Writer’s City in Words and Images.
It so happened that I received the book at the same time as I was re-reading A Moveable Feast. It proved a perfect fit and I would recommend combining the two, particularly as almost none of the “words” mentioned in Wheeler’s book title come from Hemingway himself.
This omission – surely due to the fact that quoting Hemingway’s prose would have been project-cripplingly expensive – proves to be the book’s major weakness. Wheeler’s text is charming and clear, expressing the ardour of a true fan, but Hemingway himself – and his first wife Hadley – seem strangely absent from the book.
In many ways it therefore becomes a tale of one man’s search for the essence of Hemingway in today’s city. This is not a simple photographic record of all the places Hemingway mentioned in his writings, but rather a series of suppositions on how Hemingway and Hadley may have interacted with the places Wheeler has captured. A statue in the Tuileries for example is described as something that for Hadley “might have been a constant reminder of being let go.”
The real power of the book comes from Robert Wheeler’s photos. Attempting to capture Hemingway’s Paris is a perilous exercise, working in locations that are now over-familiar clichés of the city. Wheeler though always manages to find a new angle and a dynamic framing which ensure his black and white photos drip with atmosphere and a certain melancholia – which certainly matches the mood of Hemingway when he wrote his Paris memoirs.