Sophie Calle’s ‘The Address Book’

This book appealed to me on so many different levels. Having taken inspiration from Calle’s The Hotel, Room 47 in the last module where I took a self portrait in the hotel room where I was staying, I looked forward to reading her Address Book.

The audacity she presents in contacting people previously unknown to her and interviewing them about someone they know (Pierre D.) is remarkable. As is the willingness and openness of most of these people to talk openly to her about Pierre.

Each entry in the book was published in Libération in 1983. Calle is blunt about her discoveries made through her investigative research, and illustrates each entry with a photograph taken by herself (with the exception of one). Connections between images and writing are not always obvious, some of them with more tentative or suggestive links than others. Some are set on the same page as text, some have their own page, either left or right. A few are a double page spread. Most were taken at the time and place of interview – either of a foot, head or crowd. Others are of part of the room itself such as a photo on the wall, a doorway. A few were taken outside. All, apart from one, a polar bear, are in black and white.

As the reader I question the meaning of this book. I want to know what we are expected to think or feel –  what Calle expects her reader’s experience to be. In response, I would describe it is a narrative – an unfolding story of discovery about the character known as Pierre D. Through it, we learn about his life, interests, friends and work. We peek inside the minds of his acquaintancies and are interested to see how far they will go when discussing Pierre with a stranger. It tells us of human relationships, integrity. It questions ethics and the blur between fact and fiction. Most of all, it is about honesty.

I very much enjoyed this book, in particular the slow, unfolding, illustrated narrative. Also of important note is the design of the book – small, red hardback with black binding –  as was the original address book that Calle found by accident one day.