Picador (UK), Penguin Studio (USA) 1998, 128 pages
When Michael Whittingham joins his local camera club, he stumbles across a bizarre photograph from 1959, and into a crime investigation that takes him through the seedy world of fifties pin-up photography – a world that has surprising connections with his troubled childhood. Before long, he finds himself in the grip of a dangerous obsession. Casting himself as amateur photographer, Michael unwittingly steps into the shoes of the original perpetrator of the crime. And the journal he uses to record his photographic achievements turns into a casebook of evidence in an investigation with more questions than answers.
Graham Rawle's mastery of collage engages the reader with a series of visual clues and ultimately provides an answer to the mystery in a sealed envelope inside the back cover of the book. Scraps of paper and photographs, arranged on each page to look like a real diary or scrapbook, take the reader on a journey through Michael's mind as he uncovers answers to a murder that took place more than thirty years ago. Uniquely packaged as the journal itself, Diary of an Amateur Photographer lays bare the dark side of suburbia and is a testament to Graham Rawle's extravagant and eccentric talent.
A beautifully produced mystery story, visually and narratively both ingenious and deeply weird. It’s best described as a kind of multi-media amalgamation of early Peter Blake, late Michael Powell (in his Peeping Tom period) and the People’s Friend.
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
This extraordinary bricolage - half narrative, half found object - is also a deviously acute psychological thriller, the missing link between Ruth Rendell and a Joseph Cornell picture box....In one sense, Diary is unprecedented - it’s as if Rawle has written and filmed his novel at the same time. Here’s a novel which contains its own script, set direction, casting, art design and full credits, all on the printed page. Alternatively, you could take it as a Luddite riposte to the flashiness of CD-Roms. Here’s a complex, multi-layered, fully interactive fiction on honest-to-god paper, offering all the textural pleasures of yellowed typing sheets, scissor cuts, trompe l’oeil tracing paper. I wouldn’t know whether to submit it for a Booker, a Bafta or a Software of the Year award.
Ingenious, sneaky and funny: on one level Graham Rawle’s amateur photographer is keeping a journal. On other levels, buried clues emerge and old secrets coil out of hiding. The whole delightful mechanism is concealed inside a scrapbook of interlocking graphics that evoke the 1950s world of pinup models and their furtive clients.
Brilliantly combines pervy confessions and pervy photographs. The text/photograph book is a notoriously tricky form. How many have tried and failed? This succeeds. The whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. The best description of a sick mind since American Psycho.
THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
As well as being very amusing, the book is a clever satire of a society reflected in one of its strangest masculine subcultures.
The surest litmus test of good writing is that you are left wanting more. I could easily have spent several more hours in Michael’s company. Almost all books nowadays are too long. Almost all books nowadays need cutting. This is that rarest of things, an exception to the rule. This is a book about which one can say, quite truthfully, it’s too short. More please. There’s no higher praise. Superb.
Carlo Gébler, FORTNIGHT