When Julia Child‘s memoir was released in 2006 — My Life in France, published posthumously with the help of her husband Paul’s grandnephew Alex Prud’homme — most readers presumably picked it up to learn about the famed chef‘s life in and out of the kitchen. But, sprinkled amid the text, there was another treat: the photography of Paul Child, a masterful artist in his own right.
In the new book France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child, by Prud’homme and Katie Pratt, his work takes center stage in what Prud’homme describes as a “visual extension of Julia’s memoir, an extension that lets Paul’s imagery take the lead.”
In 1948, Paul and Julia moved to France when he took on the position as cultural attaché for the U.S. Information Service. He worked out of the U.S. Embassy in Paris curating and promoting American art in France. The couple would move around France and the rest of Europe during the tenure of his position, but one thing would always remain the same: a constant curiosity about the cities they lived in, from Paris to Marseille and beyond. With Julia by his side, Paul would wander the streets and snap away. According to Prud’homme, he was known as a prolific picture-taker and rarely left home without a camera or two. The more than 200 images in the book are a small sampling of a vast archive focusing on their lives in France roughly during the years of 1948-1954.
Although Child did not have a traditional education in photography, he did have formal training as a painter and in graphic arts. He was a master of light, capturing the subtle details of shadows and highlights, creating photos rather than taking them. This mastery can be seen in slide number six above, with Julia’s leg illuminated by a simple wall lamp. The frames surrounding this particular image are highlighted in a filmstrip published in the book. Julia makes many appearances in the book and is clearly his muse.
During these years, France was a hotbed of creativity with many artists and writers passing through. In 1952, Paul met the great photographer and director of the photography department at MoMA, Edward Steichen. During their discussions, Steichen noted that Child was “a great photographer” and selected six images to be a part of the permanent collection at the New York City Museum.
“He was a true artist,” Pratt writes in the forward to France is a Feast, “always pushing himself in his own creative process, continuing to explore the media he was using (primarily photography and painting) and always driven to improve on his own work.”