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This review is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Cover of The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photographs
Nicolas TredellNutritious Images

Richard Bradford
The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photographs

Francis Lincoln, 2015 (£25)
Philip Larkin’s ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album’ is an essential, perhaps the quintessential, poem about photography and it also offers a penetrating poetic analysis of regret. But the speaker of that poem (this slightly awkward phrase is used to offset the crass conflation of poet and persona that bedevils Richard Bradford’s text) is a voyeur who might contemplate stealing a photo but never admits to taking one – in this differing from Larkin who, as this volume shows, was a committed photographer, prepared to invest money and time in the process. The striking cover image, a self-portrait with camera, both anticipates and undermines the emergence of the photographer as a glamorous icon of male sexuality in the 1960s Britain (think of David Bailey, Terence Donovan, Patrick Lichfield, Lord Snowdon) which found its cinematic epitome in the figure of Thomas in Antonioni’s Blow-Up. In this selfie, Larkin looks tense, concentrated, slightly sinister: put a cine-camera rather than a Rolleiflex Automat in his hands and he might be a forerunner of Mark in Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the 10 Rillington Place serial killer, John Reginald Christie.

Photography and sexuality were profoundly interwoven for Larkin: the most arresting picture inside the book is of a bespectacled Monica, the most enduring woman in Larkin’s life after his mother Eva, sitting in an armchair wearing the vivid striped tights that Eva had given her (in a photograph of Eva and Monica together, they look like mother and daughter). Bradford observes that, since the early 1950s, Monica ‘had ...

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