Thursday, 31 December 2020
New Year's Eve
It's been a while.
Seven years, six months and eighteen days to be precise, since I first met Barbara Mullen. And nine years, two months and twelve days (give or take), since I first saw Lillian Bassman's portrait of her, photographed at La Grand Véfour in Paris in 1949; an impossibly long streak of arm and neck, slicing across the frame - and a face twisted away from the camera's glare, disappearing into the shadows.
I've spent the last few days looking back on the journey that picture triggered. Countless days spent in archives, libraries, estates and archives in Austin, Berlin, London, Long Island, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rochester, Washington, Yale and Zurich, assisted by some of the most patient people imaginable.
12,788 screenshots from Google searches. 4,269 downloads from online resources. 450 scans from Barbara's own archive. 95 interviews. Page-by-page scouring of 73 different magazine titles (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swiss), ranging from a single issue to fifteen-year runs. 263 non-fiction books, 95 biographies, 64 novels, 32 screenplays, 8 plays. And 1 endlessly surprising subject, less than six months away from her 94th birthday - but still, she would like everyone to know, sticking at 85.
The book, in structure and outline, is exactly the same as it was when I first pitched it to publishers in the summer of 2013; 24 individual essays, each one exploring a different moment of Barbara Mullen's long career. Some chapters were only written in the latest lockdown; one or two are older than most of my nieces and nephews. But now they're all condensed down into a single file - 84,000 words, in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman - that measures only 750kb. It seems, after all that, ridiculously small.
All that's left is to hit send, and watch it go out into the world - or at least to an unfortunate editor, who's about to get swamped in the world of midcentury fashion modelling from 1945-1962.
And to wish you all a better, brighter 2021.