Petite Planète is a series of iconic travel guides by the French publishing house Edition du Seuil published between 1954 and 1964.Early on, filmmaker/novelist/graphic artist/World War II resistance fighter Chris Marker was recruited as the editor for the experimental series. He was also the lead photographer, co-designer and often writer of the guides. Marker brought an unorthodox vision to travel literature, both editorially and visually, which is not surprising when you read his fiction or see his sci-fi films.
Many years ago, when I first began collecting and selling travel literature, I would occasionally stumble upon an edition from the series or a copy from the later British editions published by Vista Books. Usually they were in a ragged condition and seemingly not collectible. Once I had done some research and recognized that the editor was the Chris Marker, I began to buy every copy of the original editions that I could find. Eventually, I found twenty-five or so copies out of the Edition du Seuil series of thirty-four books and was able to sell them to a British collector along with some of the Vista Books English language re-issues.
Like most collectors, I came to regret selling my copies. After years of living with more than two centuries worth of travel literature, I’ve come to value travel guides that offer narratives that avoid the typical touristy clichés, both in writings and visuals. The Petite Planèt series was always original and surprising. Even the covers broke new ground with their arresting photos of a woman, staring directly at the camera or gazing thoughtfully off in the distance.
I think that Chris Marker described the Petite Planèt best: “ [it’s]not a guidebook, not a history book, not a propaganda brochure, not a traveller’s impressions, but instead equivalent to the conversation we would like to have with someone intelligent and well versed in the country that interests us.”