Proust, Art and Photography

Proust, Art and Photography

 Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself
and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists.
Marcel Proust

1 – Introduction
I recently spent time reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, his most famous work, which was written in France at the beginning of the 20th century.

To say that Proust is difficult to read is an understatement.  A more accurate statement is that Proust is difficult to read. So much so that one of his readers, frustrated by the beginning of his book in which the first 17 pages are used to explain why he cannot sleep, wrote to him in despair asking to ‘please tell me what your book is about.’  Monthy Python made a sketch in which contest participants were asked to summarize Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in 30 seconds.  No one succeeded in doing it so the prize was given to the participant with the largest breasts.  This sketch points to the absurdidy that many assotiate with Proust’s work.

Reading Proust can certainly be challenging.  Yet, it can be rewarding as well.  More to the point in regards to photography, reading Proust can help us create better photographs. I know this probably sounds like an overstatement however it is not.  Let me explain.

The central concept in Proust’s work is the belief that while life goes on we are unable to bring back the true nature of past experiences intentionally. To better explain this inadequacy Proust separates memory in two categories: first, intentional memory which refers to that aspect of our memories that we access intentionally. Second, unintentional memory which refers to that aspect of our memories that we cannot access intentionally. Unintentional memories are emotional memories and we can only access indirectly. For Proust there are only two ways to access unintentional memories: through ‘chance’ events that are out of our control and occur accidentally and through art because art provides us with visions of the world that we could not otherwise access because they are those of artists and not ours.

For Proust intentional memories are simply ineffective at bringing back the true nature of an experience.  This is because the memories we are able to recall intentionally are essentially factual.  The aspects of life that we remember intentionally consist of places, events, names and other facts.  While those may be useful to describe a past event, they are ineffective at bringing back the true nature of that event. This is because only emotional memories can allow us to recall a past event in such a way that we can feel as if were living this event again.  The problem is that emotional memories are stored in our unconscious and can only be recalled by accidental events or by works of art.

Why art? Because Proust believed that art lives on forever and that its purpose is to bring an emotional response to the viewer.  Because of this emotional quality, art can bring back past experiences through unintentional memories and thereby allow us to relive past experiences to an extent equal, if not superior, to the original experience.

2 – Art as mnemonic device
It can therefore be said that art, for Proust, is a mnemonic device, a place where memories are stored and preserved.  Proust believed that trying to recall memories intentionally is futile and pointless and that memories can only be recalled two ways: first, accidentally through what he called ‘unintentional’ memories brought back by accidental events out of our control.  Second through art, because art is showing us the world as seen by another person, and as such is an unexpected, and unintentional, window onto the world as seen by that other person.  Art therefore is a reliable key to unlocking memories because unlike accidents, art is available all the time.  As evidence of the important art played in Proust’s life, over 100 works of art are listed in his oeuvre In Search of Lost time.

3 – Escape through art 

It is only through art that we can escape from ourselves and know how another person sees a universe
which is not the same as our own and whose landscapes would otherwise
have remained as unknown as any there may be on the moon.
Marcel Proust

As Proust says in the above quote, It is only through art that we can escape.  I believe that ‘escape’ for Proust did not mean avoidance of ourselves.  Instead, it meant going beyond the limitations of our intentional memory.  Proust was concerned, if not obsessed, with lost time, hence the title of his book: In Search of Lost time.  Proust believed that we cannot intentionally recollect memories because memories are not factual but, instead, emotional.  Therefore, the only way for Proust to recollect memories is through an emotional experience.  This experience cannot be created; it has to be accidental.  Art provides such an accidental event because art is a window onto another person’s view of the world, another person’s experience and memories.  As such art allows us to ‘escape’ the limitations of our own memories by providing an emotional ‘trigger’ that enables us to bring back what we forgot.

4- Why read Proust in the context of art?
Reading Proust while involved in artistic activities is helpful because Proust lived at the same time as the Impressionists.  The world that Proust describes in his novel is therefore the world that the Impressionists painted.  There is, in Proust’s writing, the essence of Impressionism and of other art movements.  There is the account of the life they lived and of the world they painted.  Therefore, reading Proust can, indirectly, help us understand Impressionism better.

Proust also lived at the time when Impressionism made room for Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Fauvism and other art movements.  Proust socialized with the artists that were at the origin of these movements, artists such as Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Dali and many other.  Here too reading Proust can help us better understand these movements as well as the motivation of the artists who created them.

While the paintings created by the artists working in these different movements show us their visual representation of their world, Proust’s text gives us an intellectual representation of this world through the characters that fill the pages and through the descriptions and remarks that Proust makes about them.

5 – Proust and Photography

 Pleasures are like photographs: those taken in the beloved’s presence no more than negatives,
 to be developed later, once you are at home, having regained the use of that interior darkroom,
access to which is ‘condemned’ as long as you are seeing other people.
Marcel Proust
A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within a Budding Grove)

 Proust is a latent image. His unconscious memories are waiting to be developed.  This was done by writing his book.  Because his book, when we reach the last page, calls for a second reading, it can be said, to paraphrase Ansel Adams, that the book is the score and our reading of the book  is the performance. While the text of the book stays the same, each new reading produces a slightly different understanding, or performance if you will.

Similarly, we are latent images ourselves when it comes to memory because we all have unconscious memories waiting to be developed.  These memories can be ‘developed’ or made ‘visible’ accidentally through ‘happy events or accidents’ that occur unwillingly.  Or, they can be made ‘visible’ as well with a certain level of control by developing a passion for the arts.  While through our own experience we can only have one vision of the world -ours- through art we can have as many visions as there are artists, each work of art presenting either the vision of a different artist or a slightly different version of the vision of a specific artist.

Art therefore provides a path to our unconscious memory by presenting us with emotions, expressed in a variety of medium, be it visual, auditory, olfactory or other.  While we may have experienced some of the emotions that art presents us with,  we would have been unable to recall these experiences consciously.  This is because our conscious memory is logical and therefore only able to recall places, names, events and other factual information.  However, the emotions attached to these facts and events are stored in our unconscious memory.  Unfortunately, we do not have access to it through intentional recollection and trying to bring back these memories intentionally is both futile and frustrating.  Only through accidental events and through the admiration of art can these memories be brought back.  At such times our logical mind gives way to an emotional response and it is through this emotional response that unintentional memories are recalled.  It is in that sense that we are latent images ourselves, or latent memories if you prefer, and it is through this process that these latent memories are ‘developed’ and made accessible, or visible, to us again.

6 – The challenges Proust offers to the reader

A – The book is composed of seven books
In Search of Lost Time is not the title of the book but the title of the oeuvre.  This oeuvre is divided in 7 volumes, each with a unique title,  as follows:

1 – Du cote de chez Swann (Swann’s Way)
2 – A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within a Budding Grove)
3 – Du Cote de Guermantes (Guermante’s Way)
4 – Sodome et Gomorrhe (Sodom and Gomorrah)
5 – La Prisoniere (The Prisoner)
6 – La Fugitive (The Fugitive)
7 – Le Temps Retrouve (Time Regained)

B – The last book ends where the first book begins.
At the end of book seven (Time Regained) the writer understands his life’s purpose and decides to write the seven books we just read.  This means we have to start all over again, at page one of book one and read all seven volumes a second time, this time with the awareness of the writer’s goal.

C – The number of characters is very large.
The number of  characters featured in the book is so large that it is difficult to remember them all and to make sense of all the relationships among them.

D – Locations and characters are organized spatially
The characters are organized in a spatial fashion, essentially around how Proust visits them.  When he goes out of his Aunt’s house in Combray, if he goes through the gate on the right side of the property he goes to Swann’s house because the right side gate leads to the side of Swann’s house.  To go through the other gate would mean making a huge detour and therefore being impractical and senseless. This fact gives us the title of book 1: Swann’s Way, a literal translation of the original French title.

The same approach is used for the second book, Guermante’s Way. Here Proust leaves the house at Combray through the left side which provides the most direct path to Guermantes’ house.

Another example of spatial organization is during Proust’s recovery when he goes to the ‘Champs Elysees’ which in the book means the gardens located at the bottom of the Champs Elysees, just before the Champs de Mars, and not the avenue itself contrary to what the term means today. Here the location is where Proust meets with his nurse and therefore the place comes to represent the person.  However, the name of this person also represents the place because the name of the person brings back memories of the events that took place there.  People and places are thus another form of latent image, because through their names one can recall memories of things past.

E – Proust writing style is extensive
Another challenge is Proust’s writing style, which is extensive, sometimes having a single sentence run for an entire page or longer.  Part of the reason for this style is Proust’s dislike for common or ‘dead’ metaphors, metaphors that have been overused and have lost their ability to surprise us and to create an emotional response when we hear them.  It is said that Proust would go into a rage, one of the few instances in which he would lose his composure, when presented with dead metaphors, and that he would complain about the speaker’s or writer’s lack of imagination and about the worthlessness of their prose, or speech, as the case might be.  Proust’s solution was to create his own original metaphors.  The problem is that he does so by constructing extremely long and complex sentences, which, as I mentioned, occasionally run for a page or more.

But there is another purpose, and outcome, for Proust’s writing style and that is to cause us to become immersed in the text, to forget what the exact context is, and to generate the type of dream-like state that is most propitious to recalling unconscious memories.  I therefore believe that his style helps achieve the very goal that his book sets to achieve, and that the difficulty of reading the text is, metaphorically representative of the difficulty of recalling emotional memories.

Just like we cannot recall such memories intentionally, neither can we benefit and enjoy Proust’s prose intentionally, by applying ourselves and being ‘studious’ readers.  Doing so is futile, no amount of ‘studiousness’ can allow us to read Proust without losing track of what we are reading at some point.  Instead, a better way to read Proust is by to let our mind wander as we read.  A better way is to let go of our concerns for lengthiness, to put aside our resentment for his overly complex prose, and to let the text flow in us, as if individual words were events leading collectively to the recollection of forgotten memories.  It is then, in my opinion, that we can truly appreciate his work and benefit from his message.

Proust’s prose works well for me when read that way. I often read Proust as if it was disconnected from the story, enjoying each word and each sentence  for the memories and the emotions it brings back to me.  I do not try to understand the story, or to follow the ‘plot’, if plot there is, because for me those are secondary in importance.  Instead, I approach the text as poetry, reading single lines as if they were precious in and out of themselves. Rather than try to understand the story told by Proust, if story there is, Proust’s writing creates my own story, the story of memories lost and found again through his prose.

7 – Conclusion
Proust understood that all human experiences are exposed to the destructive effects of time.  As a result, over time the memories associated with past experiences fade away until they are totally forgotten.  Furthermore, attempts to bring back these memories are futile and bound to be unsuccessful.

However, and this is the discovery that Proust brings us in his novel, these memories are stored in our subconscious.  While they are not available to us through intentional efforts, they can be recalled through the enjoyment of a work of art. For Proust art is therefore a “translation” of our worldly experiences.  Through art these experiences are transformed into ‘something’ — be it a painting, a musical piece, or other —  that can be accessed by anyone if we take the time to appreciate works of art.

As artists Proust’s discovery is highly valuable to us because it brings a new importance to the creation of a work of art.  Knowing what Proust discovered gives a new purpose to art.  Art is not just about aesthetics, or about sharing intellectual ideas, or about expressing artistic visions.  Art is also about providing a vehicle to help bring back forgotten memories, memories released through the emotional experience of appreciating a work of art.

Proust therefore brings us good news and bad news.  The bad news is that time is our enemy because it causes us to forget our experiences.  The good news is that time can be defeated because these memories are stored in our subconscious and we can recall them, either accidentally or through the contemplation of art.  Dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea can bring back memories associated with a past event. Similarly, admiring a work of art can give us a glimpse into how another person perception of the world and, in turn, surprise us by bringing back memories we thought were long gone.

Alain Briot
Vistancia, Arizona
December 2012

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Grand Canyon posters by Alain Briot

I have 2 different Grand Canyon posters available:

1- The Bright Angel Trail Grand Canyon Poster

2 – The Yavapai Point at Sunset Grand Canyon Poster.

Both posters are available at this link:

A special offer is available as well.


Alain Briot


Why I Photograph Cars

Why I Photograph Cars

Why I Photograph Cars
by Alain Briot

Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment
to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal –a commitment to excellence-
that will enable you to attain the success you seek.
Mario Andretti

1 – Introduction
My primary photographic subject is landscape photography.  I came to photograph cars not as a professional occupation, but because I wanted beautiful photographs of my personal cars for my own enjoyment.

In short, car photography was, and still is, a hobby. I enjoy photographing cars to change my mind from landscape photography.  I find car photography to be fun and relaxing.  I photograph my own cars, as well as cars that I like and cars in historical, racing or other interesting settings.

2 – Why I photograph cars
We all have cars.  Or we will all have cars.  That is, unless we committed ourselves to public transportation for the rest of our lives, or resolved ourselves to using a bicycle, or decided that walking will be our only form of locomotion.

While we may own the cars we photograph, many of the cars we want to photograph are not owned by us.  They are either too expensive, too unique, or simply not for sale.  This is the case for race cars, in particular those being raced at the present time, because they are the sole property of the race teams.  It is also the case for unique vehicles that belong to museums or to private collectors and of cars that are simply too pricy to purchase.  Finally, regardless of our level of income, we simply cannot own all the cars we like.  While some succeed at assembling a fascinating collection over many years, doing so is not commonplace.  Furthermore, no matter how much we try, there will always be certain cars that stay away from ownership reach.

Because of this, for many car enthusiasts seeing cars in person and bringing back photographs of these cars is an important aspect of enjoying the vehicles we like.  I should say ‘bringing back good photographs’ or better ‘bringing back great photographs. ‘ This is what this is all about.  Owning a great photograph of a great car is almost as good as owning a great car.  Not quite the same, I agree.  You cannot drive the photograph, you cannot hear the scream of the engine when looking at an image and you do not have the scent of leather, oil and gas. But when you have seen and experienced the real car, a good photograph has the power of bringing this back to you when you look at the image.  Why?  Because a great photograph captures not just the look of the car.  It also captures its soul.

A great photograph captures not only what the car looks like but also, and most importantly, how the car feels. It has the power of bringing back the emotions generated by the car.  It represents what the car means to you, both on a factual and an emotional level.  It also offers the opportunity of sharing your vision with others through your photographs, and of making them see and feel what you saw and felt.

3 – The eBook
I do car photography for my personal enjoyment, my primary photographic activity being landscape photography. However, this series of car photographs has been very well received and I have had a lot of questions about how I created them. I therefore created an eBook to explain how these photographs were created, to express my approach to car photography and to describe my vision.
The Car Photography eBook is avaible for order at this link:

4 – The Folio and eFolio
I also decided to create an eFolio, an electronic version of a Folio, to present a  selection of my favorite car photographs.  Ninety photographs are featured in the eFolio.  These ninety images represent my initial selection from hundreds, if not thousands, of car photographs.

Later this year I plan to release a Folio, a physical collection of 5×7 images printed on 8×10 fine art paper, accompanied by an artist statement, a biography and a colophon and presented in a die-cut Folio enclosure. This physical Folio will feature 15 car photographs.  Therefore, from my eFolio initial selection of 90 images, I will have to remove 75 photographs to get to the final selection of 15 photographs that will be included in the Folio. This will be a tough process since I will have to eliminate about three fourth of the images featured in the eFolio.

The Cars eFolio is available for order at this link:

Alain Briot
October 2012

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New Car Photography eBook

Latest News:

New Ebook on Car Photography by Alain Briot

November 27th

A new eBook is available. It is titled Car Photography by Alain Briot.

For a limited time this new eBook is offered at a special offer price 20% lower than the regular price. Plus, you receive the new Car Photography eFolio, featuring 85 pages of stunning car photographs, free when you place your order.

All the details are at this link:

If you are not sure why I photograph cars, the answer is in the free sampler taht you can download for free at this link:

Alain Briot

Composition notes #1/6

Composition Notes

1 – About Photographers
A great photographer has, above everything else, a great eye.  Camera gear is important, but secondary. Great photographs are the result of acute seeing abilities.  If anything, the best gear is the one that frees the photographer from thinking about technique and lets him free to concentrate on seeing.

In landscape photography, the photographer must be able to follow changes in the light, the weather, the clouds, the shadows, etc. as they happen and shoot continuously, while exposing, focusing and completing other technical tasks properly.  Only then can the photographer follow his inspiration and work his way through the multiple opportunities offered by the changing light and weather.

Alain Briot

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Art, equipment and professionalism

Art, equipment and Professionalism

Most art collectors cannot tell an Epson 9880 from a 9900. They buy the image, not the printer.
Alain Briot

An important step in the personal development of a photographer into an artist is to step away from considering the equipment first and the work second. The minute the work comes first and the equipment comes second you are on your way to creating art.

Another important step is when you start to “lag” or “lapse,” intentionally or not, on upgrading your equipment. This lapse represents a switch in your focus from the gear to the work. While there are important milestones in equipment and software acquisition, there is no need to get each and every software package or camera gear that comes out to do meaningful work. In the end, except for the main technical components that define your work (the subject you focus on and the type of prints you make for example), few of the technical specs about the gear and software you use will make it into the memory of the people who admire and collect your art or into “posterity.”

Few people will ever know which version of Photoshop you used to create a specific image. That they know you used Photoshop might be all! Similarly, few people will know what brand of camera you used, and even fewer will know which exact model within that brand. I tend to think that it is the mark of amateurs to list each piece of gear and software they own when talking about their work. Professionals know that this information is far relatively unimportant to collectors. They know that art is about the artist’s vision and not about the gear and software they used.

Professionalism, incidentally, is a state of mind, a personal approach that focuses on dedication and the desire to create quality work. Professionalism is not a financial situation. It is not related to how much money you make, if any, from your photography. Instead, it is related to the attitude you have in regards to your photography. Professionals are committed to achieving the finest results in their work and are willing to do what it takes to reach this goal.

Alain Briot

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Workshop Openings Update

Here are our current workshop openings:


1 – Our fall 2012 Workshops are sold out except for the Death Valley Workshop:

2 – Our 2013 workshops are filling out quickly. Here is the link to all of them:

Email with any questions or to register. Pricing and detailed information are available at the links above.

Best regards,


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Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail Poster by Alain Briot

Bright Angel Trail poster,
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

20″ x 39″
$35 only  – Free Shipping

I received your print today and just want to say: WOW! Yes, it is breathtaking.
I get some ooohs and ahhs from some of the work I print
but your print was awesome.
Keep up the good work. Thanks for running the special to entice some of us to sample what is possible with
current technology, skill, and a strong dedication to excellence. From the matting to the packaging it was a first class job.
Carl Fountain, Lakewood, California

The Photograph
The photograph on this poster shows the entire length of the Bright Angel Trail, from the South Rim to the North Rim. The photograph shows the trail starting near the El Tovar hotel, then going down through the Bright Angel Trail Switchbacks to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd resthouses and finally reaching the RedWall formation. Once past the Redwall the trail takes you to Indian Garden, where a campground and Ranger residences are located. From Indian Garden you can take a dead-end trail to Plateau Point, a breathtaking overlook over 1000 feet above the Colorado River and the Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon. Or, you can continue your journey down Bright Angel Creek to the Colorado River which you will cross on the Suspension Bridge. From there it is a short hike to Phantom Ranch where you can spend one or several nights, either at the Ranch or at the campground. From there you can hike back to the South rim the way you came or via the Kaibab Trail. You can also hike all the way to the North Rim by hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Roaring Springs and then to the North Rim.

The Poster
This poster showcases this unique photograph showing the entire length of the trail from the South Rim to the North Rim. The poster faithfully reproduces the colors of the original fine art print. The size of the poster is 20×39. The lettering is particularly attractive and stretches the whole length of the poster.

Order this beautiful poster now for only $35 including shipping anywhere in the world!
a) Order with PayPal by clicking on the Paypal button above

b) Call toll free at 800-949-7983 or 928-252-2466 and place your order directly on our toll free hotline using any credit card.

c) Use the pdf order form. Click here to download your pdf emailable order form, fill in your shipping and credit card information and email it back 24 hrs a day. You can also return your order form by mail if you like.

Shipping costs for this poster are included in the price. US orders are shipped via US Priority Mail insured and trackable. International and overseas orders are shipped via US Airmail insured. Your package is normally shipped the day after we receive your order.

Each package is professionally packed and insured for its full value by us. We guarantee that you will receive your poster in perfect condition. If you receive your poster damaged simply contact us and then return the damaged photograph to us. We will ship you a new piece right away upon receipt of your returned poster at no extra cost.

One year, 100% Money Back Guarantee
All purchases are covered by my unique 100% Take one year to decide money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with your purchase for any reason just return it (in original condition) for a refund or credit. Take one year to decide.

Order Now
a) email your order form. Click here to download your pdf emailable order form, fill in your shipping and credit card information and email it back 24 hrs a day. You can also return your order form by mail if you like.

b) Call toll free at 800-949-7983 or 928-252-2466 and place your order directly on our toll free hotline using any credit card.

c) Order with PayPal by clicking on the Paypal button above


Orders shipped to Arizona are charged sales tax. No tax is charged on out of state orders.
Copyright © Alain Briot 2012

Alain Briot

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Alain Briot Mastery Workshops on DVD Limited Time Special Offer

Mastery Workshops on DVD Updates
and Special Offer

New updates are available for all five Mastery Workshops on DVD:

1 – Composition Mastery Workshop on DVD: New Composition Example
2 – Layers Mastery Workshop on DVD: Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom LR4 quickstep updates
3 – Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD: Valiani Matcutter
4 – Personal Style Master Class Workshop on DVD:
– Can software help you create a personal style?
 – How can you find out if you have a personal style?
5 – Printing Mastery Workshop on DVD: Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom LR4 quickstep updates

Log on to the update area for each DVD to download these updates. They are free to all Mastery Workshops on DVD owners.

If you do not own one, or any, Mastery Workshop on DVD, a special offer is available that will save you a lot of money: click here to see the specifics of this special offer.

NEW – Pay in 3 equal instalments
We offer the option of paying for your Mastery Workshops in DVD in 3 equal installments instead of all at once. The three installments will be placed on your credit card a month apart. The first installment will be applied the day you place your order, the second a month later and the third two months later. To take advantage of this option simply email or call us with your credit card, phone number and shipping information. There is no extra cost for this option and your order will ship immediately.

NEW – All 5 Mastery DVDs are available on USB Flash Card Drive
Just let us know that you want your order shipped on a USB Flash Card Drive after you place your order: The contents are exactly the same whether you choose the CD/DVDs or the USB flash Card option. You also receive all the same benefits and have access to the free updates area. We offer both options because some computers, such as the MacBook Air, do not have a CD/DVD drive and also because some students prefer this option for other reasons.

Discover the Special Offer at this link:

Alain Briot

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