Sophie Calle's Portrait of a Man

Karen Kedmey
Jan 24, 2013 3:04AM

One summer day, in 1983, Pierre D.'s address book slipped out of his possession, landed on the hot asphalt of the Rue des Martyrs in Paris, and was found by Sophie Calle. Before returning it to its hapless owner, Calle photocopied its contents--408 names/addresses written in blue ballpoint pen--and embarked upon an effort to transform them into a portrait of a man she had never met and would not meet. Her efforts, and the gradually forming portrait of this man, were played out over the course of a month in the pages of Liberation, which published her brief and evocative daily accounts.

Picking and choosing among the names, bypassing his father, phoning his brother, Calle called Pierre D.'s contacts and asked them to describe him to her. A picture builds, through questions and conversations at once sensitive and invasive, cautious and violating.

Early- to mid-30s. Handsome face, ill-fitting clothes. Somewhat out of sync with the world. Enigmatic. Well-liked. Dreamer, intellectual, filmmaker.

Egypt is Pierre D.'s great love, though he has never been there. His knowledge of this complex country, like Calle's knowledge of him, comes only, perhaps deliberately, second-hand.

Karen Kedmey