I’ll admit I have a strange fascination with arty photographs of writers. My office has black and white postcards of Dr. Seuss, Ann Rice, and Samuel Beckett, among others. There is something about the images–the expressions, the eyes, the minds kept from me by the lens–all captured in high contrast that I just can’t get enough of.
In 2009 there was an uproar over the weight given to author Marisha Pessl’s looks, leading to implications that her book jacket photo more than her work was worthy of consideration, or at least that the two were equal. I certainly don’t want to undermine any artist by focusing solely on their appearance. I just can’t help my love of author portraits. Some of my favorites:
Eudora Welty. Most photos of Welty show her in the later years, when she was seen as the grand dame of Southern Women writers. I love the casualness of this earlier image: the leg propped up, typewriter on her bed, papers before her. Maybe the image was posed, but I like to think someone just found her this way one afternoon, that she often wrote in bed in fab trousers and sandals.
Katherine Ann Porter. More reminiscent of a starlet than writer, this is one of the most famous shots of Porter. Her eyes are so focused and intense, an interesting juxtaposition to the often unstable women she created in her work. I also adore how her hair, even though it is decidedly styled, has a slightly undone feel to it. She’s a woman full of secrets and fire, only barely controlled.
Virginia Woolf. Most portraits of Woolf show her in three-quarter profile, looking sad and pensive. Or perhaps that is just the projection that accompanies the knowledge of her personal turmoil (Sylvia Plath pictures have the same feel). This one shows her facing the camera, swathed in fur. Despite the wrap and jewelry, this is no means a glamor shot. What I love the most is the slight smirk that reminds me that she was funny, witty, and vivacious, not just tragic and brilliant.
Colette. Like Edith Piaf, Colette has the fantastic ability to look undeniably French in every image. The composition of this picture is interesting–why the flowers? But like Porter’s portrait, this all about the eyes for me. The side glance and heavy eyeliner are divine. I also love the posture, as if she is ready to pounce from the chair at any moment, dash across the room, and throw the flowers against the wall. Or throw her arms around some unseen person. Or both.
Margaret Atwood. It’s no secret that I love the grand Ms. Atwood more than life itself. This image of her stands out as my favorite. The framing, the contrast in textures–she looks like a character out of one of her own books. It almost reminds me of “Siren Song” with her as a mythical creature drawing to her.
Who knows, someday I too will have a gorgeous black and white author photo, too.