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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Daylight Noir: Raymond Chandler's Imagined City

Raymond Chandler set his stories and novels in a Los Angeles that sometimes seemed to me to be part of an alternate universe. The city was still recognizable but something was always just a little off about it. Chandler created his striking version of Los Angeles so successfully, in fact, that it often seemed more real, if rather more odd and dangerous, to me than the real city streets of L.A.

I followed Chandler into his Los Angeles before I ever saw the real thing for myself and I was somewhat disappointed by what I saw when I finally got there. The two cities, real and imagined, just did not match up all that well for me. After having read Catherine Corman’s photo-filled Daylight Noir, I now know for sure that the problem was entirely my own. Daylight Noir is filled with moody black and white photographs of many of the locations prominently featured in Chandler’s work, photos as arresting as the images created by Chandler himself.

My problem was that I was looking at Los Angeles through modern eyes and in living color. Corman solves that problem by producing all of her photos in high contrast black and white, just as they might have been photographed in Chandler’s heyday. The reader will note, too, that there are no people in any of the pictures, a tactic that further enhances the feeling of big city loneliness so common in Chandler’s work. Catherine Corman has an artistic eye and her photographs reflect that artistry. They are shot from unusual angles, only rarely straight on, and yet have the look of pictures that could have been taken in the early decades of the last century.

Corman’s photos tell me more about Los Angeles than any of those thousands of self-promoting, touristy, pictures I have seen over a lifetime. As a bonus, they also remind me why I love Raymond Chandler’s work so much and they make me anxious to revisit his stories for the first time in a long while. Daylight Noir is the perfect companion piece to Raymond Chandler’s mysteries and I plan to keep it near my Chandler collection so that I can refer to it the next time I crack open one of his hardboiled stories.

Daylight Noir
should appeal equally to fans of photo collections and to fans of the remarkable work of Raymond Chandler.

Rated at: 5.0

(Advance Reading Copy provided by Charta)

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