If Jack London entered the legend as a writer, his photography remains shrouded in semi secrecy, although his prolific talent shows as much when he uses a pen than when he uses a camera. As a matter of fact, both tools were inseparable in helping him build his gradually acute view of the world.
Acquiring one of the first Kodak cameras to appear on the market, the adventurous Jack London hit the road between 1900 and 1916, taking over twelve thousand pictures he called “human documents”. The poverty of the city of London was to shape his social views forever. Called “The People of the Abyss”, the images taken in 1902 show how closely Jack London felt to the people he was taking pictures of. There is no will to cover up the bleakness with special effects: the pictures speak by themselves, and his technical skills only help in revealing the social injustice. Soon after, in 1903, he wrote, “How I became a Socialist”, a testimony as to how his writing was never far from his photography. Both showed different facets of the tumultuous world he was a witness of, shaping them into a vision that remains as striking today as it was then.
As one of the first photographers documenting the world around him, Jack London managed to use his camera not just to show the futility of war or the poverty of the people, but also to highlight their dignity and humanity. His pictures had such an effect that when he became a war correspondent for the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, publishing his pictures of the Russian Japanese conflict in the San Francisco Examiner, he was arrested and his camera confiscated. Despite the fact that it was forbidden to take pictures in Moji town, he managed to send hundreds of photographs to the newspaper, alongside twenty articles. The testimony of the war and its victims shocked the world.
If his pictures of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are among the greatest he ever produced, it is because his narratives, whether through pictures or novels, always blend his powers of perception with compassion, respect and love for humanity.
Hawaii, the Marquesas Island, Tahiti, Samoa, the Fiji Islands, the Solomon Islands, the Pacific markers that Jack London documented on his long and famous trip made on a home-built ship called the Snark, show portraits infused with personality, exotic faces and stern eyes gazing through the lens – all infused with a universal dignity. They were published in 1911 and remain one of the best documents of this forgotten world.
With this new addition to their English book collection “In Words”, Contrasto adds another landmark in their successful venture of bringing together Literature and Photography. In “The Paths Men Take” a vast selection of London’s photography reportages is mixed with excerpts from his narrative and journalistic masterpieces, revealing how London’s exceptional writing and photographic talent cannot be dissociated.