Thursday, November 10, 2022

Just Out: Jamie Beck's Provence Book

In 2016, Texas-born photographer Jamie Beck was living in New York—running her own studio, doing commercial work for brands such as Chanel, Donna Karan and Nike and editorial work for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and others--when she decided to take a one-year sabbatical in the South of France.

Her husband, Kevin Burg, was understanding. “I think we were both ready for a little break, some fresh air and a little perspective,” she remembers.

Six years later Jamie is still in France, thriving personally and professionally, and this week is huge for her because yesterday, her first book officially came out in the U.S.  Called An American in Provence (Simon Element, $40), it’s now widely available online and from your favorite bookseller. 

When Jamie sent me an advance copy of An American in Provence last week, I knew I wanted to share her book news with you. But I was leaving on a little trip, had other deadlines and needed to hold off writing about it for just a few days. Still, I thought I’d dip in and read just a bit, then enjoy the rest later when I had time. But at 2 am I was still savoring it and I finished it the next day. I literally couldn’t put it down…it’s exquisite!

Organized around the four seasons, the book is essentially a memoir, illustrated with 204 of Jamie’s lush, evocative photos. But it’s also a cookbook (with seasonal recipes created by Jamie, her friends and local chefs), all of them based upon Provencal ingredients. And it’s a travelogue too, with Jamie taking you by the hand, through text and photos, introducing you to some of her favorite people and places. And it’s a photo tutorial, with solid tips for improving your own images. There are sections on shooting indoors and out; shooting kids, self-portraits and nudes; learning to pose; and yes, even tips on pinning bugs for still-life photography. Anyone who knows Jamie’s work knows how she loves bugs!

All of these things combine to create a passionate love letter to Provence--to the beauty of the landscape, climate, lifestyle and people--and a testament to what can happen when one decides to listen to that inner voice, drastically change their life and take a terrifying leap into the unknown.

So what exactly was wrong in New York? What was it that made Jamie leap?

“I had it all,” she explains, “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. Full disclosure: I hate writing this out. It sounds privileged and grotesquely shallow. But that is what I was taught to work toward. That is what I was surrounded by, what our culture rewards…That is what I was paid to capture professionally with my lens, the ‘perfect aspirational lifestyle,’ in photoshoots that were all façades. As my mom in her Southern accent likes to say, “All meringue, no substance.”

She continues: “I dreamed of having time to focus on my craft, to explore a richer meaning in my work, but most of my time was spent working for clients, as if I were an unlimited resource, a photographic, copywriting, photoshoot-producing, post-production-editing machine. Until I wasn’t anymore. Until I fried my creative engines.”

An American in Provence is just the latest in a long, long line of creative projects that Jamie has pursued during her time in Provence. For someone who came here to slow down, her output has been beyond prodigious! First and foremost there’ve been numerous fine-art photo projects such as a series of Provencal self portraits and the 60 gorgeous one-a-day “Isolation Creation” still lifes she created and photographed during Covid lockdown. (She sold the images in her online shop and donated funds to the Foundation for Contemporary Arts' Covid-19 Emergency Grants Fund.) More recently, there was a similar project called Rose Month. Then there have been collaborations with a wide range of Provence people, businesses, and brands, including the winery Domaine MilanLuxe ProvenceLe Mas de Poiriers and many others.  And periodically Jamie still hops on a plane to shoot for fashion clients, magazine clients and luxury brands in various far-flung locations…and sells her work online as prints and posters…and markets products based on life in Provence, some of which she creates or co-creates.

She shares most everything on her Instagram (372K followers), through photos, stories, highlights, reels, captions and comments. In Jamie’s hands, Instagram is truly another art form.

One of the things I love about Jamie’s Instagram is how she involves the audience in the process. For example, she’ll write about the experience of finding the right printer or frame-maker and then take you there, through video, to actually meet them and watch them work. Or she’ll share a video of how she creates one of her still-life photos, which is fascinating to see and adds so much to the appreciation of the finished image.

“You’re fun in Provence,” Jamie’s husband Kevin announced, the first time he came from New York to visit her in France. The couple had vaguely talked about the future, where they might live separately or together, but that early trip cemented what was the right next step (and the next and the next) for both of them. Their daughter Eloïse was born in 2019 and Jamie writes beautifully about the experience of pregnancy, birth and motherhood in France. Today Kevin does all product and digital design for Jamie's company...and produces remarkable “cinemagraphs” and digital art of his own, which you can see on his Instagram here.

I remember talking with Jamie when she was working on the book. She was unsure about her voice, nervous about her approaching deadlines, juggling emotions that ranged from excited beyond words to total imposter syndrome. And now that she's deep into a cross-country whirlwind of parties, readings, signings and more, you can see how delighted she is with the end result. 

"This was the hardest thing I have ever done," Jamie tells me, "and yet (aside from my daughter) the thing I am most proud of in my entire life. It feels surreal. I just keep describing it to people as feeling like a Cinderella moment!"

So what's next for the American in Provence...will she and her family stay? Jamie says the time passed long ago when she and Kevin went from saying “one more month,” to “one more year” to “we live here now.”

“I had traveled for years to the far corners of the earth without knowing this particular kind of comfort,” she writes. “I am not lost when I am here. The second I leave, I can’t wait to get back…I am alive within myself, breathing every fiber of my being.”

“At the end of that very first year,” she continues, “I felt like I was still just beginning a journey of discovery both within myself and of French culture...I didn’t want to leave. And guess what? I still don’t. Like all the layers of human history around me I’m still uncovering, Provence continues to show me things, teach me things, while allowing me to live and breathe with her in harmony and balance.”

For More Info

To catch up with Jamie at a book signing, see her schedule here.

All of the photos in the book are now available as prints; you can buy them here.