A great new review by independent researcher Lia Genovese of our translation of Alfred Raquez’s wonderful Laotian Pages has appeared in the Journal of the Siam Society. Check that out here: https://www.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/pub_jss/article/view/224705/154133
Then buy our book here: https://www.niaspress.dk/books/laotian-pages
The good people at PHILAO: Bulletin de l’Association Internationale des Collectionneurs de Timbres‐poste du Laos have been strong supporters of my work on Alfred Raquez since I started, and now they have kindly published a long promotion (in English) in the latest issue of my new scholarly translation with Paul Bruthiaux of Raquez’s Pages Laotiennes.
Here is the transcription:
My colleague Paul Bruthiaux and I are proud to announce to PHILAO readers the second in our series of scholarly translations of the writing of Alfred Raquez. Published by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, our translation of Pages Laotiennes follows our 2017 translation of Au Pays des Pagodes, which the South China Morning Post called “an impressive academic update and required reading for anyone with a connection to China.” We follow the same high standards with our translation of Raquez’s travels through Laos.
As Raquez’s best known work, Pages Laotiennes presents unique difficulties for research and translation. The existing translation, misleadingly titled Around Laos in 1900: A Photographer’s Adventures, is prone to error, and we felt a new appreciation was needed. Our Laotian Pages features a 50,000-word introduction and hundreds of annotations that build on the scholarship presented in In the Land of Pagodas, offering fresh insight into the life and times of the author.
Raquez’s peers considered him a first-rate author. In addition to the book-length works, he penned many hundreds of articles for the Hanoi-based L’Avenir du Tonkin and La Revue Indochinoise (for which he was editorial director from 1904), and many dozens of articles in France for La Dépêche Coloniale and its sister publication, La Dépêche Coloniale Illustrée, among others. He was also admired as an explorer and granted an interview to the prestigious Le Globe Trotter Journal Illustreé in 1906.
Despite the rarity and volume of this work—consisting of thousands of pages—a key part of our research has been to track down all Raquez’s publications, interviews, and obituaries. We discovered that like Pages Laotiennes, his journalism often takes the form of personal travel diaries, and it was this work that his peers most admired. They also offer clues to his relationships and activities in Indochina that have long puzzled fans.
Raquez offers a unique voice in the annals of French Indochina, a blend of fin-de-siècle flâneur and political hack, a man who charmed his way into the upper echelons of the colonial political machine yet retained his idiosyncratic writing style, bringing the sensibility of Montmartre to descriptions of the Far East. The writer Jean Ajalbert, whom met Raquez at the 1902 Hanoi Exposition, recalled Raquez as a “humorous writer, a jovial epicurean and lover of travel and artistic erudition,” traits that we strive to preserve in our translations.
Our new translation introduces this voice to an Anglophone audience while preserving and contextualizing it for a Francophone one. Readers already familiar with Alfred Raquez will discover fascinating new information about him and the French Orient during the late Belle Époque.
Laotian Pages features all 310 original illustrations and presents 13 maps of Raquez’s trail from Yokohama, overland through Laos, and down the Mekong to Phnom Penh.
It is available now from NIAS Press: http://www.niaspress.dk/books/laotian-pages.
In the Introduction to our scholarly translation of Raquez’s Pages Laotiennes (available here), we bring up a mystery regarding the illustrations. An image in Pages Laotiennes appears to have been taken moments apart from a similar image in another book.
The second image comes from Empire Colonial de la France: L’Indo-Chine: Cochinchine, Cambodge, Laos, Annam, Tonkin, published in Paris in 1901. The author of L’Indo-Chine was Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863–1931), a well-known explorer and photographer. He converted to Islam and in 1894 was one of the first Western men to openly visit and photograph Mecca. He would later pioneer the use of color photography using a technique known as Autochrome as early as 1908, an endeavor for which he is now mostly remembered. L’Indo-Chine unambiguously states that “Illustrations, direct from nature, were taken by Mr. Gervais Courtellemont.”
In our Introduction we speculate that the publisher of Pages Laotiennes, F. H. Schneider, got his hands on Gervais-Courtellemont’s pictures and printed them with or without the photographer’s permission. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that several other pictures appear in Pages Laotiennes that were later printed as postcards without attribution to Raquez. For instance, the image of the Lue women that appears in Pages Laotiennes that mirrors the image from L’Indo-Chine was later printed as a postcard by the Saigon-based Mottet et Cie but not credited to Raquez (his other postcards and photographs carry the imprint of either “Collection Raquez” or “Cliché Raquez”).
So far so good…but what we don’t discuss in our Introduction are the other parallel images in Pages Laotiennes and L’Indo-Chine. The situation may be more complex than it appears.
Here is the image from page 391 of Pages Laotiennes:
Raquez claims to have met this group in Xieng Khouang and he describes them in detail on the same page on which the image appears, including details that closely match the clothing. “A group of ladies includes a Phuan woman as full of spirit as a schoolgirl on leave, a Phu Thang in a wide turban falling back over one ear, Laotian ladies from Luang Prabang, even a Lue woman, her waist held tight in a smart jacket of apple green velvet and embroidered armbands around her biceps. Being the good little mothers that they are, they pamper big chubby babies, smothering them in caresses.” The caption reads “Young Lue, Phuan, Phu Thang Women and Girls.”
And here is the same group of women and children in a slightly different arrangement from page 101 of L’Indo-Chine:
The caption on the page reads “Femmes de Luang-Prabang,” but in the table of illustrations, the caption reads “Phou Tai and Lue Women – Luang-Prabang.”
Given Raquez’s description, either he was writing from the photograph or his photograph was used without credit in L’Indo-Chine. Without access to the records of the individual publishing houses, we are left only with conjecture, but there are other parallel images between the two books, and the sheer number of instances is provocative. Here are some more:
The market at Luang Prabang in Pages Laotiennes…
Are these the same men in this image of the same market from L’Indo-Chine?
And here is the same Lue girl in both books. From Pages Laotiennes…
And from L’Indo-Chine…
Any and all comments on this conundrum are welcome!
Our excellent friend the superb Indonesian artist Sheila has completed the image for the cover of our upcoming translation of Alfred Raquez’s book of travel through Laos in 1900, Pages Laotiennes, to be published this year in a two volume set by NIAS Press as Laotian Pages.
The image uses Raquez’s postcard of Sao Si, one of the Laotian performers he brought to Marseille for the 1906 Colonial Exposition.
The building is based on the library at Wat Si Saket in Vientiane, which also was the model for the Laos Pavilion in Marseille in 1906 (see below).
The pattern on the woman’s sinh (the scarf) is based on a traditional textile pattern from Laos.
Amazing job, thank you Sheila!