Bibliomania

Antiquarian book dealer and avid bibliophile Simon Finch meditates on the passions and delusions particular to his trade, and reflects on a rare text that eluded him nearly thirty years ago

In 1989, my bookselling career was taking off, and I was rabid to attend every auction I could. November of that year saw a fabulous sale of important books in fine condition at Sotheby’s in New York. Among the many remarkable items was a first edition of Don Quixote and a book by Georg Joachim Rheticus called Narratio Prima, one of the rarest and most important books in the history of science, printed in Gdansk in 1540.

Rheticus was the only pupil of Copernicus and his slight publication was the first printed account of the great man’s heliocentric theory of the universe. Its printing gave Copernicus the courage to publish his own book, and the sheets of De Revolutionibus were delivered to him on his deathbed in 1543. Perhaps he checked out at the right time: The idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun was not particularly popular then.

The month of the auction was also the month I got married, and I had to persuade my wife to take a detour on our honeymoon to see the book, which, kindly, she agreed to. But it was all in vain; the Rheticus went for $470,000, way beyond my pocket at the time.

The addicted book collector is motivated by hope and desire. Bibliomania is an ancient affliction, though it was only named in the 18th century by John Ferriar – a physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary – and it is an affliction without a cure. The acquisition of one particular volume does not satisfy. Delusion is part of the disease. I somehow imagined that the Rheticus might slide between the cracks and be had for a bargain price.

About a decade later I was at a book fair on the continent when a gentleman asked me whether I would like to buy “quite a rare book”. Of course, the answer was “Yes”, but I was not quite prepared for what it was: a copy of the Rheticus and the equally scarce second edition. This time around I was in a position to make a deal – such incredible joy.

I never got the Don Quixote and my marriage didn’t last, but you can’t, as they say, win them all.

This is an excerpt from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe click here.

Why Take Photographs?

Photographer Giles Duley – who himself was photographed minutes after he lost both legs and his left arm in 2011 as a result of stepping on an explosive device – asks how photography can be justified when documenting the horrific injuries of war

Abdulah in Erbil, by Giles Duley

I’ve covered few stories that have affected me as much as documenting injured civilians in Mosul. The time I spent there, earlier this year, left me questioning the validity of my work and bereft of hope. For a month after returning home I hid from the world. When faced with such darkness and violence, what value can a photograph have? Does it become voyeuristic to capture and share those moments? Against such horror a camera seems impotent, its use almost perverse…

I believe photography comes with great responsibility and as soon as I lift my camera to record somebody’s story, I have to ask myself: Why am I doing this? Nothing in photography goes more against human nature than the process of pointing your camera at somebody injured, afraid or in real peril. So, why do it? Does it, can it, make a difference?

In February I was based in a hospital run by EMERGENCY in Erbil. Every day they were receiving dozens of badly injured civilians from the fighting for Mosul. Even after over a decade of photographing the effects of conflict, the scenes I witnessed there were amongst the worst I’d ever seen. Babies with amputated limbs, a young child paralysed by a sniper’s bullet, whole families lost. It was beyond words.

In the past, I have referred to how I try and find a positive in such situations, a moment of humour, or to show the love between loved ones, families. But what I witnessed from Mosul left me beyond that: there are times when you can find no such image, no positive. I think back to Raghad, a man I met in the hospital: For four days, I watch him sit silently by his injured son’s bed. He nods when I walk by, nothing more. Then one day he comes over and grabs my arm.

“It was not my fault,” he pleads through dead eyes, a hollow expression I have rarely seen. “I did what I thought was right.”

He tells me his story: His family sheltered beneath a table in their home as bombs landed around them. The house opposite was hit, then the house next door, and at that moment his nerve gave; he told his family that they must run. As they left the front door, a third bomb dropped. Raghad’s wife, three daughters and two sons were all killed instantly. A son, Abdulah, survived, left blind in one eye.

There is nothing you can say to such a story. You cannot say ‘things will get better’, because they never will. There is no hope, no positive angle. This is the real face of war and its sinking, sucking horror.

I photograph his son against a white wall, a patch still on his left eye. Skin pitted by shrapnel, his expression as hollow as his father’s.

I could only see the darkness and terror of what was happening. I was shooting angry, disregarding my normal practice of not showing the blood and gore. I wanted the world to see what was happening and reel away as I had.

As the days passed, I knew this was wrong. It should not be about me, but about those I was photographing, and to do their stories justice I had to work in a balanced way. I don’t like the phrase ‘to give people a voice’, they have voices already – my job is to make sure those voices are heard.

But there’s still that question: Why do it? What difference will a photograph make anyway? Only recently I’d heard my inspiration, the war photographer Don McCullin, say there was no point to his decades of work because wars still go on. So, if my photograph makes no difference, why point my camera at a child who’s just been injured? It’s an intrusive act.

On the last day, I sit with Dawood Salim, a 12-year-old boy who has lost both of his legs and most of his right hand. For the past week, I’ve been visiting him and his mother: He always smiles and jokes. For the first time, I feel ready to take his photograph.

I ask his mother, “Do you mind if I photograph your son?”

She looks at me with a defiant yet resigned stare: “When a child is injured like this, the whole world should see.”

Does this answer my doubts? Does that make it all ok? Of course not. But it reminds me of my simplest role: to act as witness, to tell their story. What Dawood’s mother has said has not given me permission, but has challenged me to do what she has asked. There is no point in taking a photograph if I do not then do all I can to make sure the whole world sees it.

That is where my duty lies.

This is an excerpt from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe click here.

Duley’s exhibition, I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See was shown from Wednesday 4th through Sunday 15th October, The Old Truman Brewery, 89 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL.

In this article, he reflects on the exhibition and presents a video collaboration of the event directed by Phoebe Arnstein.

TenTen Issue 2

In our latest edition of TenTen, we explore the stratospheric reach of luxury horology from the time-keeping tale of a record-setting aviator, to the role of the Omega Speedmaster in the NASA Apollo space program, and much more…

For our second annual edition of Port’s watch special, TenTen, we’ve gone for a globetrotting theme. As the nautical name of our magazine indicates, we have a penchant for tales of seafaring. Precise, reliable ways of portable timekeeping have their roots in the oldest means of global travel: by sea. In this issue of TenTen, we discover how global exploration shaped the art of watchmaking.

TenTen remembers Walter Lange, 1924-2017, the watchmaker who fled the East German uranium mines in 1948, and returned to his home country when the Berlin Wall fell to re-establish Germany’s fine-watchmaking reputation.  

We also discover the horological legacy of Charles A. Lindbergh, who in 1927 set records for the first and longest non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. Famous horloger Longines was present to time his voyage, and the adventurous duo then collaborated on a revolutionary navigational instrument that enabled precise timekeeping. Coming back down to earth, TenTen discover the subaquatic resilience of the Rolex ‘Submariner’; and the carbon innovations in horology that combine strength with feather lightness.

Elsewhere, TenTen investigate the crucial role of the Omega ‘Moon watch’ in the ‘successful failure’ of Apollo 13 in 1970; unite man’s best friend with man’s best accessory in our playful canine editorial; investigate the quintessentially Roman brand making waves in bespoke Swiss watchmaking; and recall the cameo role played by the Rochefoucauld watch in ‘80s screwball comedy Trading Places.

TenTen is the supplement of issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy a single issue or to subscribe, click here

Port Issue 21

The latest issue of Port is out now, featuring our interview with the inimitable Steve Buscemi, a focus on the Royal Gold medal winning architect Neave Brown, and much more…

“He kicks ass, man. His range is incredible”, so remarked Jeff Bridges to Port recently. And it’s true: Steve Buscemi does kick ass. But he also knows how to walk the line between multiple different guises. He’s an industry grandee, with cult status; an arthouse movie darling, and a blockbuster powerhouse. When Port met one of the most nuanced actors of his generation in a quiet bar in Brooklyn, we received a masterclass in maintaining a successful yet steady life.

Hollywood action hero, TV mobster and art-house loser Steve Buscemi sits down with award-winning author Charles Bock to discuss playing Nikita Khrushchev in the upcoming The Death of Stalin, his addiction to watching classic movies on TCM, the vanity of the movie business, and his newfound passion for yoga.

Over in the Style section, our Miami Noir editorial – styled by Dan May and shot by Greg Lotus – features a sharp selection of menswear from Emporio Armani, while a series styled by Will Johns features a range of Hermès accessories elegantly interspersed with scenes from a Sussex village. Elsewhere, we offer our take on the hottest men’s outerwear of the season, and mingle casual menswear with dramatic botanical images.

In the features section, sailor Alex Thomson reflects on his experience of the Vendée Globe, a grueling, round-the-world solo yacht race, and the most demanding of its kind on the planet. Will Wiles reflects on the career of one of the last surviving proponents of brutalist architecture, Neave Brown, who was recently awarded the highly coveted Royal Gold Medal; and photographer Elliott Verdier travels to the remote central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan to capture an ex-Soviet state struggling to find a national identity in a globalised world.

Acclaimed novelist and playwright Hanif Kureishi explores the connection between drugs and countercultural movements, while Alain de Botton muses on that million dollar-question: what is the relationship between capital and contentment, and what can banks tell us about the psychology of money? Conflict photographer Giles Duley unravels the ethics of photography in documenting a violent world, while Steven Johnson considers the ramifications of communication with life beyond Earth.

Highlights from the Porter include 108 Garage chef Chris Denney’s celebration of the versatile Japanese seaweed kombu; a focus on the life and work of Soviet Constructivist Vavara Stepanova; and a conversation between Mozambican author Mia Couto and his protégé, Brazilian author and translator Julián Fuks.

To buy a single issue or to subscribe, click here