Photographer Ellen Cantor, 74, used to move a lot. And every time she did, she carried her childhood books with her from home to home. But eventually, she settled down, and has now lived in the same house in California for 40 years. For most of those years, these childhood books were essentially forgotten.
But one day, Cantor rediscovered these treasures, so tightly protected in book jackets and cardboard sleeves that they hadn't seen the light of day for nearly half a century. And that's when inspiration struck.
Alice in Wonderland, 2013 | (Ellen Cantor)
Little Women, 2013 | (Ellen Cantor)
"I'm interested in time and memory, and how we hold on to mementos," Cantor said in an interview. In her collection Prior Pleasures, the photographer imaginatively captures object and action in a single photo, tapping into the timeless joy of reading as well as the tactile beauty of the vintage book.
"I want people to feel like they are reading the book and looking at the illustrations at the same time," she said. To do so, she takes 30 to 40 images of each book at different pages, sometimes using the front or back cover. Of those, she chooses two or three images that really pop, and superimposes them to form one image. No Photoshop required.
Cantor focused on books published in the 1950s or before (The oldest book in the series, The Campfire Girls, was published in 1914.), pulling books from her and her mother's libraries as well as friends' rare book collections and independent bookshops. "There are certain classics I look for, and I don't want the modern versions," Cantor said. "They have to have a certain thickness."
"I grew up where it was cold," said Cantor, who was born in Chicago. "Reading books, listening to the radio, it's what you did." An avid reader, and e-reader owner, the 74-year-old photographer has nothing against Kindles or iPads. "But, through this project, I rediscovered that wonderful quality of a child sitting down and getting lost in a book."
Travel back to childhood with a selection of Cantor's Prior Pleasures below:
Black Beauty, 2014 | (Ellen Cantor)
Jo's Boys, 2015 | (Ellen Cantor)
Nancy Drew, 2014 | (Ellen Cantor)
Heidi, 2015 | (Ellen Cantor)
Hajji Babe, 2015 | (Ellen Cantor)
Eight Cousins, 2013 | (Ellen Cantor)
Raggedy Andy, 2014 | (Ellen Cantor)