Keith Van Sickle reviews An American in Provence, a New York Times Bestseller, a collection of stunning photographs of Provence by Jamie Beck.
Just a few years ago, Jamie Beck was a sought-out photographer working for top brands like Cartier and Veuve Clicquot. She had legions of Instagram followers and what seemed like a rich, fulfilling life. But something was missing.
As Beck tells us in her brilliant new book, An American in Provence:
“I had it all. A ‘dream life’ with a cool job, amazing clients, luxury trips, designer clothes, a cute little vintage Mercedes convertible, a house in the Hamptons, a French-looking apartment by Riverside Park, and I could eat at any restaurant I wanted, any night of the week in New York. Why on earth was I so unhappy?”
Beck realised that all the personal sacrifices required to “make it” were squeezing the life out of her. Photography fed a deep artistic need, but working for others year after year, adapting to their needs and their timetables, had extinguished her creative spark. She desperately needed a break.
And so she moved to Provence.
Only For a Year
It was only for a year, she told herself and her then-partner Kevin. She wanted to try a different way of living, of being, away from the pressures of her big-city life. She rented a small apartment in Apt, a working-class town in Provence, and began again.
This book is the story of Beck’s rebirth, and it is a vivid and well-told tale. Beck quickly discovered that Provence is wildly different from New York City: slower, calmer, simpler. This allowed her, in turn, to slow down, living simply and beginning to strip away what she calls the “cultural programming” of her previous life.
After months in Provence, Beck had an awakening. In a moving passage, she writes that she realised how much she had been controlled by social expectations. This insight gave her a new sense of freedom, and we share her journey as she is reborn as an artist, bursting anew with passion and creativity.
Snapshots of Life
The writing is episodic, with different chapters covering different subjects. In one, we learn how she and Kevin decided to get married, and in another about their decision to have a child. Beck tells us how they agonised over whether to move to Provence permanently, and what convinced them that they should.
There are stories of helpful cheese mongers and unhelpful bureaucrats, old French traditions and new French friends. Throughout, Beck’s writing is infused with the warmth and colour of Provence.
An American in Provence is full of beautiful photos, and is worth the price of admission for these alone. Added in are three dozen of Beck’s favourite recipes, like Provençal beef stew and cream of sorrel soup, plus a series of short photography tutorials which cover lighting, posing, and more. There’s a lot to like in this book.
I love memoirs of people who begin a new life abroad, and some of those books have become classics. It’s time to add An American in Provence to the canon.
Lead photo credit : An American in Provence © Jamie Beck
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