Sophie Calle is an installation artist, photographer and writer from France. Her projects often explore the relationship between someone’s private life and public persona, and the concept of these two in general. Calle is known for going to great lengths to inspect people’s private lives for her work. One project in particular, “The Address Book,” caused quite a bit of controversy. Calle found a man named Pierre Baudry’s address book on the street as she was walking around Paris one day, and returned it shortly after. However, before Calle returned it, she copied all the contact information in the book. She then called several of the people that Pierre had written down as contacts and asked them somewhat personal questions about him. Some of his acquaintances were angered by what Calle was doing, one man stated that it was an “outrage” and that he would have “no part in it.” (Huffington Post) Interestingly enough, most were willing to talk about Baudry, some going very in depth. One person even stated that “his personality developed what could be called a dirty side.” (Huffington Post) Calle recorded all of these responses, and then photographed some of Pierre’s favorite hobbies and day to day activities. Compiling all of this information, she created an address book of her own that essentially served as a unique profile of Pierre.
Calle published her work in the Libération in 1983, and Pierre came across it shortly after. Upon seeing the publication, he was outraged and threatened to sue Calle for invasion of privacy. He was so upset that he even urged the newspaper to publish a nude photo of Calle as retribution.
Now why was Pierre so upset? We can’t know for sure, he may have just not wanted that sort of information widely publicized the way it was. However, I think it may be more complex than that. Calle created a portrait of Pierre that probably much different than the person he sees himself as. When Calle went about defining Baudry in the indirect way that she did, she produced a more accurate description of him than she could have through any sort of interview with him. What may have made the book so concerning to Pierre was the fact that it explored the relationship between what he projects to others, and how they actually identify him.
Another interesting part of “The Address Book” is that it created a very accurate bio of this man that he has literally no control over. It almost acts a social media account, however there is no filter. Pierre can’t pick and choose what everyone else sees. It’s almost like if someone hacked your social media account and began posting about every aspect of you, not just the characteristics you want to be expressed. With our current use of social media accounts to do just the opposite, I think the “The Address Book” takes on a whole new meaning.
Calle closes “The Address Book” with this quote, ““If I ran into you on the street, I think I could recognize you, but I would not talk to you. I have met your friends. I have listened to them. I no longer need them. Tonight, I will leave Paris, I could have gone to your native Reims to see your school, your house. I could have tried to join you in Lapland. Instead, I have chosen to buy a train ticket for Rome, where you spend every summer, where you would like to live.” She mentions all the places that Pierre lives out his life, but finishes by saying that he truly wants to live in Rome. More or less saying that Pierre should move there. My impression of this was that Calle is recommending to all of us that we live out our lives not by our public obligations, but our private desires. I thought that this was a very curious way for her to end the work, however I’m still not entirely sure what she means by this.
Calle’s project really explores the presentation of ourselves and how it is received by others in a very cool and unique way. I don’t know about you, but personally I would really like to have Calle construct an address book on me, however I think I would want to see it before it was published in the Daily Aztec.