Sophie Calle: The Address Book

By Emmy Lee | Posted on December 10th, 2012

French artist Sophie Calle recently published her controversial work The Address Book for the first time in English – it’s a compilation of essays she wrote for the French newspaper Liberation in the 1983. Calle is known for projects in which she immerses herself in the lives of strangers or allows strangers into her own life. The work plays to everyone’s voyeuristic tendencies: Calle found an address book in the streets of Paris, photocopied its contents, called its contacts and asked them about the address book’s owner, painting a portrait of sorts of the address books’ owner, a scriptwriter known only as Pierre D.: “Thus, I will get to know this man through his friends and acquaintances,” she wrote in her first column for the paper. “I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him, and I will try to produce a portrait of him over an undetermined length of time that will depend on the willingness of his friends to talk about him—and on the turns taken by the events.” When Pierre D. learned of Calle’s project he threatened to sue and demanded that Liberation publish nude photos of Calle to retaliate for the invasion of his privacy – they reached an agreement that Calle would not publish the work until after Pierre D.’s death. Here are some excerpts from his fascinating book, offering a varied sense of the elusive protagonist, his relationships with those interviewed, as well as insight into the interviewees themselves:

Enzo U., an Italian friend of Pierre D.’s agrees to meet Ms. Calle on a Monday at noon, when he’s passing through Paris:

“I know Pierre very well. I met him in the late 60’s at a science fiction festival in Trieste. He was already in love with Italy. I was fascinated by his Harry Langdon, Jacques Tati side. We became friends.” Enzo U.’s house became a base for Pierre’s annual vacations in Rome. “He represented the burlesque and the romantic for me; he was the first of the new romantics. Then his image became more cultural. He started writing film criticism and scripts. His personality developed what could be called a ‘dirty side.’

There are “the failures,” like Monsieur Baaron:

I tell him the story. He says, “Do you know who I am? I’m a public personality! If you had called me to talk to me or to get to know me, I would have agreed to meet with you. I started from scratch too. I know what it’s like to start out. But you’re using a roundabout method. I don’t like that…”

Interesting perspectives on the same man:

Sylvie B.: Physically, he’s gorgeous. Thirtyish, white hair. A way of dressing with a certain proportion of intentional clownishness that he totally accepts.”

Paul B.: He is extremely intelligent. He is a real character. But he did not know how to ‘sell’ himself. It is as a character that he failed.”


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