The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
A Camera in the Kitchen
If you haven’t seen Nora Ephron’s latest film Julie & Julia yet, there are several scenes, which indicate that aside from his work for the U.S. government, Julia Child’s husband Paul was a photographer. After seeing the film, I did a little research and learned that as a young adult, Paul moved to Paris and pursued an artistic profession, working in different media including painting, drawing, and woodcarving. Then, over a twenty-year period, he taught a variety of courses, including photography. Julia wrote in her memoir My Life in France, that Paul “was ambitious for his painting and photography, which he did on evenings or weekends, but even those ambitions were more aesthetic than commercial . . . But his motivation for making paintings and photographs wasn’t fame or riches: his pleasure in the act of creating, ‘the thing itself,’ was reward enough.” Apparently Paul considered photojournalism as a possible profession to pursue, but had no interest in the “ulcers and deadlines” that come with the job. Instead Julia fell into the limelight and Paul faithfully documented their life together from behind the scenes. Some of his black-and-white photographs of the French countryside and Parisian scenes are included in Julia’s memoir.
Paul was Julia’s helpmate and she claims that without him, she never would have had her career. And thanks to her career, we can enjoy Paul’s photographs, despite the fact that he was never seeking artistic fame. The actual kitchen in which Julia cooked and Paul photographed is on display at the National Museum of American History. Online visitors can read the diary about moving the kitchen and its contents from their home in Massachusetts to Washington D.C. here.
Christin Boggs is an Intern at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative