Much of Binh’s story revolves around photographs. The book opens with him examining two pictures taken when his Mesdames leave for America. For both photos, Binh explains precisely what he is doing in the background of each. Later in the novel, Binh admires a photo of Gertrude Stein donning a kimono. He finds this photo hidden away in the cabinet where Gertrude Stein keeps her writing journals. Photography also surfaces when Sweet Sunday Man promises to get his photograph taken with Binh, only if Binh promises to give Sweet Sunday Man a copy of Gertrude Stein’s work. Finally, the most valuable photograph becomes the one of the man on the bridge. After all, Binh decides to save his money for this photo, so he can purchase it from the photographer at a later date. Through this photograph, Binh also realizes the significant impact the evening with the man on the bridge had on Binh’s life. Because of this man, Binh finds a reason for staying in Paris. Thus, through photographs, Binh finds his identity by uncovering a purpose for his life. He uses the photographs to tell his life story, only after Gertrude Stein has told her version of Binh’s life. Although Binh has not mastered the proper languages needed to counteract Gertrude Stein’s story of himself through the written word, Binh regains control over his own story by telling his tales through photographs. As a result, he shows that stories are just like pictures. There are many hidden meanings in each story and photograph, and the story or photograph presented does not always convey the full picture.
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Famous quotes containing the word photographs:
“All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In thisas in other waysthey are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers. Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.”
—John Berger (b. 1926)
“As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure.”
—Susan Sontag (b. 1933)
“The charm, one might say the genius of memory, is that it is choosy, chancy, and temperamental: it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust.”
—Elizabeth Bowen (18991973)