Workshopping the Author Photo
~Inspired by a conversation with Michael Martone
My assignment: Study the author photos on Hunger Mountain’s website. Digest. Conclude. Report.
by Erika Anderson
Poets break all the rules. When other writers take their photos outdoors, poets stay inside. They’re the only ones who wear hats or leather jackets with nothing underneath. The only ones with dogs leaping in the foreground. If you’re looking for a smiley man, look for a poet. Men who write stories or essays tend to “keep it real” with a serious face, but poets are a smiley bunch.
Speaking of keeping it real, that’s exactly what CNFers do, men and women both. The world is a hard place and they must face it head on and stony-faced.
Fiction writers are always outdoors. They’re also most likely to wear glasses and show their hands as if to say, “No weapons here.”
This might surprise you, but most author photos are in color. A smattering of black and white or sepia, sure, but a mere smattering, no more. Same goes for unstaged photos—most won’t take that risk. Not for an Author Photo. And writers tend to look at the camera. Imagine.
In general, we can say these things: if you’re indoors, and you’re a writer, you might have your likeness captured next to a window or before a bookcase; if you’re outdoors, and you’re a writer, you might get that shot snapped before a tree, a field, a bench, a brick wall—anything that says “natural” or “real.” Barn doors are appreciated, as are horses. Nothing says “I’m published!” like a horse.
What will you wear, if you’re a writer in need of an author photo? You might wear a scarf. You might even wrap it three times around that long neck of yours. A chunky sweater. Anything black. Though purple will do, as will polka dots. Collared shirts for that professional look. Something simple, for the writer’s life is a simple one.
And your expression? If you’re not one of those smiley-man poets, it’s rare to go beyond a half-grin, though a snarl is not suggested. But you’ve got more to work with than just a mouth. We writers often like to suggest—with our eyes—that we’re enigmas.
All of this leads to my own odyssey: What would my perfect author photo look like? I play “enigma” with this shot on the train in Slovenia, the photo I used for my first HM piece, but is that me? And I’m not sure about my expression in the picture I chose for this essay (I’m watching you from the lefthand column)—looks too much like a blind stare. Which is why I took myself on an author photo rampage.
Me, the bookcase owner. Me, the chillaxing layabout. Me, the naturalist. Me, the prizewinner. Me, the solemn mystery. And, finally, me with a scarf. The real me must be in there somewhere. Isn’t that what we’re after? The realest real?