"Exteriors: Annie Ernaux and Photography" juxtaposes excerpts from Annie Ernaux’s book Journal du dehors (Exteriors, 1993) with photographs from the collection of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. The result is an intriguing exhibition, which brings to life both the photographs and the texts. As Annie Ernaux once wrote, she sought to “describe reality as through the eyes of a photographer and to preserve the mystery and opacity of the lives I encountered”.

Journal du dehors consists of journal entries from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which Ernaux wrote down as she commuted by train between Paris and her home in Cergy-Pontoise, a suburb some 40 kilometers outside of Paris. In the preface to the paperback edition Ernaux describes the book as “a collection of snapshots of collective urban life”.

Most of the photographs were take in or around Paris, but the inclusion of several works by Daido Moriyama, of a collage of a packed train at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station by the Japanese photographer Hiro and of photographs taken in New York, London, Los Angeles and Shanghai, illustrate that the urban experience described by Ernaux is universal. Similarly, the inclusion of two recent works by Mohamed Bourouissa show that the scenes in Journal du dehors are of all times.

The writing in Journal du dehors is closer in style to Les années (The Years, 2008) than to La place (A Man's Place, 1983) and L'événement (Happening, 2000). I now look forward to reading the entire book.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, which is available in both French and English. If you can’t make it to the exhibition I recommend getting yourself a copy of the catalogue.

Extérieurs. Annie Ernaux & la Photographie is at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris until 26 May 2024.