Speaking volumes: Walter Taieb’s life-sized bookshelf portaits reveal much about their owners

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With our libraries vanishing into megabytes and our book bags being swapped for tablets, Walter Taieb’s photos of packed, life-size bookshelves ask us to pause and take stock of what we’re losing.

Finding poker and casino culture enjoyable, Taieb opted out of his expensive Paris flat three years ago and moved to more affordable Las Vegas. The only downside: He had to give up a lot of his personal library. Redirecting his creative energies from musical composition to photography, he began exploring the loss of so many literary companions by photographing his remaining books, the subjects of which consisted mostly of musical theory, classical operas and sheet music. The image paid homage to his love for books, but more than that, it was a self-portrait, a glimpse into Taieb’s personality and musical passions.

He began visiting other homes — artist Susanne Forestieri, chef Kerry Simon, historian Brian Paco Alvarez — photographing their libraries and capturing portraits through their books. “I don’t really know a person unless I have been to [his or her] home, and the most revealing [thing] about someone is his/her library,” says Taieb.

Intent on capturing every lettered detail, he built a custom, large-format camera. The resulting super-high-res C-prints — mounted on acrylic, lining the Downtown Contemporary Gallery walls — are scaled to the size of actual bookcases: You can read the title of every spine and even guess personal favorites from the extra-creased bindings, frayed edges and fading labels. The troves of text offer an intimate window into the pursuits and knowledge each individual has been feeding their mind.

“It takes my subjects a lot of trust to let me capture their personal library,” explains Taieb. “When I did Susanne Forestieri’s picture, she just left me by myself, unsupervised in her home, and I was able to go to her bedroom and get the books she had on her night stand. Almost nothing is off-limits.”

Perusing the convincing tromp l’oeil shelves without the ability to take any of the items hints eerily at a future literary world gone completely digital — the photos of busy colored tombs offering nostalgic mementos to bygone days of leafing through bound pages.

“Why do we need bookshelves?” Taieb asks. “Are they just decorative? Are they just a shallow way to expose a person’s culture? Or are they a reminder of all these great experiences we have lived through them?”

PORTRAITS THROUGH BOOKS Tuesday-Sunday 1:30-8 p.m., through April 30; Downtown Contermporary Gallery at ArtSquare, 1025 First St., Suite 145, www.downtown-contemporary.com.