Title: The Gift of Therapy

Photographer: Jean Baudrillard
Author: Irvin D. Yalom
Publisher: Perennial (HarperCollins)
Designer: Robbin Schiff


Book Genre: Psychology

Along with Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and other French Post-Structuralists, the philosopher and social theorist Jean Baudrillard, particularly through his 1981 'Simulacra and Simulation', was a significant influence on segments of the art world in the 1980s and 1990s. Barbara Kruger, Jeff Wall and Victor Burgin may be seen as examples of artists using photography who absorbed, or reacted to, the tenets of Baudrillard's theories in their work.

To some degree, apparently, Baudrillard also considered himself a photographer. An example of his work, an interior still life, is on the cover of Irvin Yalom's 'The Gift of Therapy'. While the image has a rich sense of color and a sophisticated formal complexity, it does not go terribly far beyond showing us an interesting way to compose triangles within a rectangle.

As often seems to be the case when those who write about art try their hand at making art, the results are curiously regressive. It is, perhaps, to Baudrillard's credit that he had the wisdom not to quit his day job.


Actually, I bought this book

Actually, I bought this book a long time ago mainly because I loved the cover! Anyway, I never got to read it. Maybe I should now :)

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The Violence of Cropping

An interesting choice of cover, but I think your comments are a little harsh. Have you seen the book "Jean Baudrillard: Photographs 1985-1998" (Hatje Cantz/Neue Galerie Graz, 1999), which collects quite a few of his pictures? Baudrillard emerges from its pages as a more interesting photographer than you suggest, especially if you consider his pictures in the light of his own comments about photography in the book.

The image used on Cover of the Month # 5 is much better in its uncropped, wider, original version. The colour is also subtler in the reproduction shown in Baudrillard's book, the wall a cool, mauvish-blue rather than this heavier hue. The play of the diagonals, which you point out, is more satisfying, too.

Correctly shown, the picture frame is roughly the same in surface area as the open window. They balance each other visually, but the twisting of planes that occurs with the angling of the window has a destabilizing effect: your eye keeps trying to resolve this awkwardness. The bar-shaped shadows on the wall and table top meet at the righthand edge, locking the composition together and leading you back across the peculiarly-shaped lamp. In the original, the lamp is just slightly off-centre and with the intended amount of space around it, it forms a deeply mysterious presence: it's clearly the motivating force in the picture.

The eye at work here is considerably more sophisticated than you suggest (especially for a writer!). It's the book cover's designer who hasn't seen this. Baudrillard didn't quit his day job, no, but I would say your sarcasm is misplaced. This unusual picture has stuck in my mind since I first saw it.

Rick Poynor

Baudrillard cover

I agree with Rick, who stated the case much more descriptively and creatively than I ever could. I have loved this cover since I purchased the book several years ago, and although I like the book, it's possible that I gave it as a give twice because of the cover. It's painterly and it's geometry has the above-described quality of drawing in the viewer. It's also an interesting choice considering the content of the book, a comment which may or may not have a place here.

Lesley Achitoff