© Berenice Abbott, 1926 (#1+2), 1928 (#3), Portraits of James Joyce
and Cover and limitation page from the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1922)

When Abbott photographed James Joyce in 1926 (photo #1+2) he was one of the most important writers in Paris and at the center of the expatriate literary circle that frequented Sylvia Beach's bookshop “Shakespeare and Company.”

Beach had published Joyce’s revolutionary work “Ulysses" in 1922 (on his birthday, Feb. 2) and was doubtless responsible for arranging this session with the young American photographer who had begun her career the previous year as a darkroom assistant to Man Ray, but who, like him, was now also becoming a favorite photographer of the avant-garde expatriate set in Paris.

At the time of the sitting, Joyce was engaged in his most ambitious undertaking, “Finnegans Wake,” and was suffering both from criticism that it was unreadable and from a painful eye condition that kept him home at 2 Square Robiac (where portrait #1 and #2 were made) and required him to wear an eye patch. For one of the exposures (#2) Joyce removed the patch and held it, with his glasses, in his right hand; his forehead still bears the diagonal impression of the ribbon.

Abbott’s 1926 portraits are more like a mirror reflection than a professional portrayal, revealing a complex and sympathetic character Djuna Barnes so aptly described as "the Grand Inquisitor come to judge himself." It is with good reason that these pictures are considered the definitive portraits of the author of “Ulysses” and “Finnegan’s Wake.”

Abbott photographed Joyce on a second occasion in 1928 at her studio, as was her more customary practice. (+, +)


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