Travel lit meets photography in Andrew Losowsky’s book The Doorbells of Florence. We’ve already started getting buzz on blogs (PoppyTalk, and Somewhere in Middle America) about this beautifully designed small book of fictional stories. For all of you design types out there, you’ll drool over the handlettering that appears throughout the book (and on the cover) by Joel Holland. Each doorbell, with its own personality (and via Andrew’s writing, a unique story behind it) is complemented by Holland’s fancifully expressive lettering. Here are some spreads from the book:
To give you more insight into the book, and the writer, I asked author Andrew Losowsky some questions.
Why did you write a book about doorbells?
The whole thing was an accident. I had just bought a new camera, and wanted to test it during a brief holiday to visit friends in Florence, Italy. One of the first photos I took with it was of a particularly ornate doorbell. “That came out well,” I thought, and so I took another. And then another. I followed my nose, waiting for doorbells to catch my eye. A few hours later, I had more than 100 doorbell photos in my camera, and I was thoroughly lost.
I had never thought about it before, but doorbells reveal a lot about a building and its occupants. In Italy, they also write who lives inside – so, for instance, I’d come across seven Italian names and one Japanese name written on a sticky note. What was that about? On another doorbell, I found only beautifully engraved numbers except for a single family living on the top floor. Where had everyone else gone? There was also an amazing variety of styles of doorbells, from plastic cheap buzzers to gleaming metallic pull-knobs and enormous lion’s head knockers. I was amazed at the variety and the creativity that had gone into marking out where each person lived, and providing a way to say hello.
The whole thing felt like a very zen-like activity. That is, until an old woman came out onto her balcony and yelled at me. At that point, I very un-zenly ran away.
About a year after taking the photos, I returned to them and began to notice more details in the images, and I started to ask myself questions about the bells and the buildings’ occupants. Stories began to form in my head – and so I wrote them down. And that’s how it all began.
Which was the most fun to write?
I’m fond of them all, in their way. I really enjoyed being able to dabble in different genres, without ever allowing the stories to become too macabre or silly. So one is a mock-horror tale, while another is a strange twist on a detective story.
I particularly enjoyed seeding certain stories with characters from other tales – so if you really want to, you can create a web of connections between the inhabitants of this fictional city of Florence, which became more real with every story I wrote.
All cities are genuinely magical places if you look at them right. You never know when a small balloon will release a rainfall of marshmallows onto your head, or when an old man will recite a poem to a wooden rooster. That’s really what the book is all about.
You moved last year from Europe to the USA. How different are they?
Completely different – popular culture, the way things work, the mentality of the people, the history, the food.
Completely identical – people doing remarkable, beautiful things for themselves and each other. Which is what people do, when left to their own devices. I’m just fortunate to get to see some of it, and hopefully to share some of my experiences to help spread the fun around.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Reading magazines – in my other life, I’m the co-curator of the Colophon independent magazine festival, and something of a magazine expert. Despite all that’s going on, print is still thriving if you know where to look for it.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a project to write about objects in museums, and how they relate to the visitors who look at them. I’ve started to contact different museums to see if they’d be interested in some form of partnership. There are many more ways to look at objects than appear on a simple caption…
Other than that, I have a non-fiction book in the works, I’ve just completed a trilogy of plays that I’m hoping will be performed in London next year, and I have a director who wants to turn The Doorbells of Florence into a play. I wrote it as a book, and wouldn’t know where to start with adapting it, but I can’t wait to see how it comes out.
To read an excerpt from The Doorbells of Florence, go here.
Do you have one thing you photograph over and over again? Tell us!
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