It’s 2006, early June, and I’m backpacking around Europe for three weeks with an ex-boyfriend. Here he is mid-trip, at an airport in Mallorca, reading my copy of Shutterbabe. By this time we are tired from traveling, sweaty from the heat, and beyond annoyed with one another. We might not have been talking. BUT we both read this book, maybe not loving everything about it, but equally fascinated by it.
Title: Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War
Author: Deborah Copaken Kogan
Published: January 2002
Pages: 336 pages
It’s the late 1980’s. Deborah just graduated from Harvard and moved to Paris, literally knocking on doors for a job in photojournalism. She gets picked up by a well-known photo agency. Throughout the novel, we follow her around the world on assignment. Although it’s more about her journey behind the lens – where she’s going, how she gets there, who she meets, obstacles she faces, mistakes she makes - instead of what she is reporting. She’s one of the few women in the field, and as a recent college graduate, she’s figuring out life lessons in a very real and raw way.
Travel lovers will be happy. We’re all over the place in the book: Harvard. Paris. Afghanistan. Russia. Haiti. Zimbabwe. Romania.
2. Characters + Controversy:
The book opens with this quote:
“Put ten photojournalists in front of a burning house, and I guarantee you’ll get ten different pictures of that house. One might choose a wide shot of the whole fiery mess. Another might focus in on a single window, a singed teddy bear smoldering on its sill. But this is my story, my slide show, my burning house. Enter it knowing that, beyond a few name changes, every flame is real.”
I think this is also a good preface because this book has quite a range of reviews, meaning some people DID NOT like it. Opinions were all over the place. People hated the title. The way she named her chapters after men. Her lovers. Her decisions. Her attitude, which they found arrogant and sometimes foolish. The ending.
However, this is a memoir. It’s about her life, and I found her story flawed yet engaging. Deborah is not always likeable, at times coming of brash and self-absorbed, but I also felt impressed by her tenacity. As someone who loves young adult books and works at a college, I’m obviously drawn to coming of age stories and post-college transitions.
After Deborah completed her Harvard Honors thesis – on a series of risque photographs – she moves to Paris. She’s a photographer! She’s traveling around the world! She has a pretty incredible post-college transition. I remember reading it for the first time, feeling a bit in awe of her life. My life was nothing like her life and we were roughly around the same age in the story. I would wonder aloud, “Did I miss something?!” My partner at the time was like, “Ah, that might be a good thing?” She also had some horrific things happen to her along the way – sexual assault, sexism, and seeing incredible suffering – that I would never wish on anyone.
While some people were quick to judge her own decisions, I say this, it’s post-college life, so we’ve all made some choices that weren’t the wisest. (I won’t even list all of mine….) Deborah’s are a bit more extreme, but even if a woman puts herself in less-than-ideal situations, does that ever give anyone the right to assault her? Not in my book.
Post-college life, photographers, domke bags and kodachrome film, Paris, war, lovers, falling in-love.
Summer reading, especially if you’re traveling. I read it in one sitting on the flight over to Europe. Shortly after arriving, I tossed it to my sweetie and said, “You’ve got to read this.”
The pace of this book is smooth and moves quickly. It’s interesting reading about photojournalism in a time without digital cameras and the Internet. Like, they used film! And had to mail things! And there was no instant gratification, but more of an art to the process.
I think people interested in adventure, international travel, and photography would be drawn to this book. Yet, not everyone will like it.
But you should read it and be the judge.
IV. Additional Resources
Still on my nightstand: An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
P.S. The marathon wiped me out this week. I’m hoping to cook something this weekend and feature some FOOD on this blog!