Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#photobook review: in almost every picture 10: pig, by Michael Campeau

Article first published as Book Review: In Almost Every Picture 10: Pig, by Michael Campeau on Blogcritics.

The tenth volume of the vernacular photography series In Almost every Picture, edited by Erik Kessels, is printed on a pretty pink stock. It’s nearly the color of the Financial Times, but rather than conveying fickle market trends, this tome sets in print a singular, enduring obsession.

When Michael Campeau gathered his family photographs nearly forty years ago, he noticed an unusual image from 1963. It was of his mother, bottle-feeding a piglet in the middle of Au Lutin Qui Bouffe (The Noshing Elf), a popular Montreal restaurant.

The success of a great many photo books goes beyond the quality of the photos themselves. Sequencing and book design - from layouts to paper stock - are all crucial parts of the puzzle. But it all starts with a concept. Campeau’s took shape by coincidence. In 2005, he worked with a friend who was gathering his own family photographs. Among those was a familiar image: in the same restaurant, another piglet was being bottle-fed by a customer.

The photographer placed an ad in local senior’s newspaper in search of similar photos, and his piglet obsession became a study in the piglet obesssion of others. In Almost Every Picture selects over a hundred such images commissioned by restaurant proprietor Joseph B. McAbbie from 1938 to 1973. McAbbie later hired “society photographer” Jean-Paul Cuerrier to make the photographs, which Cuerrier continued to do even after the owner’s death. Cuerrier’s son told Campeau that in a single night his father might take over two hundred and fifty photographs of feeding time.

The piglet and the decor are a constant, but multitudes are to be found in customers of varying ages and social background, from solo diners to couples, from a nun to a gathering of Shriners. Conflicting stories abound as to the fate of the piglets. By some accounts, the milk-fed pink delight grew up to feed elfin customers. But others tell a tale of long pig lives led on an idyllic farm. Au Lutin Qui Bouffe made thousands of piglet pictures, but many are lost. A fire closed down the Montreal landmark, and closed the door on the photo op memorialized In Almost Every Picture. We must rebuild.

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