The Daily Heller: Diane Keaton’s Really Neat Photo Book

Posted inThe Daily Heller
© Giuseppe Pino

“I love your jacket,” I told Diane Keaton, Oscar-winning actress, photographer and author, during a recent telephone interview about her eclectic new book, SAVED: My Picture World (Rizzoli), which dropped last Friday. I was allowed 15 minutes for the interview and thought that maybe a compliment about the book might break the ice. Surprisingly, there was no ice to break. In fact, I felt like I was talking to Keaton’s most iconic film character, Annie Hall (Keaton was born Diane Hall, by the way), and I was put at ease hearing her delightful Annie voice responding to my comment the way Annie might have said it: “Really?! No? Come on … you mean you really like it?” I was waiting for her to use the word “neat.”

I don’t usually review photography books unless the content really grabs me. It’s not because I’m anti-photo; I just don’t possess a critical framework for judging the work. But I do know what I like, and Ms. Keaton’s SAVED hits the right buttons, from its title to content—just the right balance of mystery, vernacular, personal history and artistry. I also think her response to my compliment was genuine; even a veteran film personality would be insecure about another person’s perception of such an intimate and personal book. The truth is, the book has a niche audience, of which I am a member.

The jacket signals the darkly comedic slant that fits Keaton’s sensibilities. I love the bold typography and subtle pictorial gag—a droll photo by the late Milanese photographer Giuseppe Pino of an ornate but empty picture frame that is being held by three hands, not two. (The surprising third hand suggests the surrealistic undercurrent throughout the book.) The title SAVED is typeset in extra bold red sans serif caps above the image, which is printed to appear like a metal votive against the black matte background, with “BY DIANE KEATON” in red type underneath. The subtitle is saved for the title page.

SAVED is a hybrid art-as-life memoir told through images, paired with revealing brief essays that introduce the 13 thematic sections, each with expressive typographic opening spreads designed by Ethel Seno. The sections feature a sampling of Keaton’s favorite lost-and-found anonymous images, her personally snapped photos, as well as a trove of surreal photocollages, various scrapbook pages, and as the finale, a compelling section of abstract collages by Keaton’s brother Randy Hall, who grew up with mental challenges, now suffers from dementia, and to whom the book is lovingly dedicated.

The first of the three sections represented graphically above is “The Ostentatious Flash,” in which Keaton shot candid photos of ordinary folks on Hollywood Boulevard with her trusty Rolleiflex and flash, surprising some, upsetting others. (“I remember taking shots of a particularly dapper older gentleman who spotted my flash and threw a bag of french fries at my head,” she writes.) Next, of “Cut & Paste,” Keaton says she and her siblings were avid collage makers. (“Our love for the picture world was much more appealing than the beach, TV, movies and even our family trips to Death Valley or Doheny Beach.”) And finally, “Red” features Randy’s work. (“Randy was a master of rearranging the female gender to suit his imagination.”)

The book’s 13 sections are portfolios of ephemera and minutia that fit under the titles “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (creepy vintage monster movie stills, like the one where a mad scientist keeps his beautiful fiancé’s head and brain alive in a tray), “Teeth a Warning” (graphic photos from the 1930s Clinical Diagnosis of Diseases of the Mouth), “Pigeons of Trafalgar Square” (photos of “manic swooping down” and “willful plunges” of the aroused urban fowl), “Dogs” (pages from vintage scrapbooks of cutout pooches), “Light of Day” (portraits of survivors of automobile accident injuries), and more eclectic oddities drawn from photo archives and ephemera stashes Keaton told me she’s been buying and long collecting, which she pins up on a 30–50 foot mood wall in her home. “I love that wall,” she said.

SAVED appeals to my love of quirk without reservation.

Many of her treasured objects and effigies were bought at swap meets (aka flea markets). She keeps her collecting life separate from her acting one—“acting is weird,” she said with a hint of irony, given the weirdness that Keaton saved in SAVED—but if you picture the dinner scene in Annie Hall in which the Hall family discusses swap meets, the dialogue comes directly from the fact that Keaton and her sister Dorrie are addicted to buying crazy stuff at such gatherings.

One Sunday, decades ago, I caught sight of Keaton intently browsing at New York’s now decimated 26th Street flea market. I told her that and she jokingly asked how she looked. I implied that in long grey wool coat and scarf, she looked like the typical flea denizen, of which only a few have not gone digital.

I’ve collected many scrapbooks and personal ephemera collections and thought I was satiated, but SAVED shows me there’s still more to marvel and enjoy. What a neat book to have.