Thursday, January 15, 2009

Author Photos

What makes a good author photo? Or a bad one? That, I guess, is what Salt authors are currently asking themselves after comments from Salt that perhaps more guidance was needed for some people (without specifying anyone in particular!).

I submitted my photos a while back. They were taken by Gerry Cambridge. We spent hours taking hundreds of shots over two afternoons, from which we extracted six photos. I liked them a lot, but today I came across this, also from Salt:

"Our guidance specifies landscape format shots, as in wider than tall, some interpret this as photo in a landscape and head out to their nearest leafy landmark!"

Damn, I hadn’t picked that up at all but, to my relief, four out the six are in landscape format. They are all in black & white. One of them is of me crouching in a huge bed of dead leaves. Behind me is a stained wall. To my left, also in the leaves, there’s a large cracked urn toppled on its side (very Keatsian). I am reading a book called Dawkins’ God. It was Gerry’s concept and it’s a poem-as-photograph in itself. Whether it qualifies as a “leafy landmark,” I’m not sure. It’s in a church graveyard, which is, I suppose, a landmark of sorts, but the leaves are all dead and brown.

I don’t like being photographed. In fact, I am the world’s worst person to take for a photo shoot. I can remember my parents hiring a photographer to take pics of me as a child and he got only one forced smile out of me in the entire hour. Gerry did a great job in that regard. I do actually smile in a couple of the six.

One of the photos, the only close-up, makes me look as solemn and intense as Geoffrey Hill’s author pic (well, almost). I actually quite like it because of that. It’s humorous in its po-faced stare. One of the others has me grinning beneath a stone skull. So a range of moods. The idea was to go for an edgy, alternative vibe with a touch of black humour, but in a place of depth and tradition (hence the churchyard).

My Salt author page isn’t up yet, but when it is I’ll let you know. You can always gaze at Andrew Philip there in the meantime. Looks like a leafy landmark to me! Our books both launch on March 1st.

15 comments:

BarbaraS said...

I'm with you there on the hating getting photos taken front. The better ones of me (in mu very humble opinion) are ones that I don't know are being taken: I'm convinced that the camera absolutely hates me & my big nose and ugly teeth - perhaps I should dress up as the big bad wolf for the next set...

But I love this description of you getting yours taken. I think if you know the person taking them they can cod you into relaxing and then you get a better result. You should post one or two - go on! Keep us going until the author page goes up ;)

deemikay said...

I'm another one who hates having their photo taken... And the safest place to be when photographs are being made is behind the camera. Hence why I take hundreds of photographs.

What makes a good author photo? Possibly none, in my opinion. Does it matter what the author looks like? Most (but not all) author photos can seem rather contrived.

In fact, why not have models in place of the author? You don't see an author's handwriting - you get a standardised typeface; so why should you see their face? ;o)

shug said...

Congrats Rob. Does the photo make you seem humble yet possessed of deep reserves of intellect and barely harnessed sexuality?

I've been posing for that photograsph for years but it always comes out as a blotchy fat old git.

Rob said...

Barbara, I think I'll keep them under wraps until the author page arrives. I'll be interested to see which one Chris chooses.

David, I agree in a way. You read the words in a book, and what the author looks like or what he/she eats for breakfast isn't important at all. But apparently, good author photos sell books. And if you don't look like a model, I guess you have to try that bit harder.

Wasn't there a well known male author who did what you are suggesting? He pretended to be a young woman and posted a pic of a beautiful blonde on his book jacket. Can't remember who now. He probably had some explaining to do when it was found out.

Shug - "deep reserves of intellect and barely harnessed sexuality?" I think I failed that test, but other Salt authors, such as Tobias Hill show how it's done.

Alternatively, we could look to Geoffrey Hill’s latest pic for inspiration.

deemikay said...

Eek... Geoffrey's scary.

The fact that "good author photos sell" says more about readers than writers and publishers. Who am I to argue with public opinion?

I hadn't heard that story about the young blonde. Maybe it was laugh-a-long Geoff himself? Now that is a scary thought...

I'm off to photograph a G. Hill poem now... (and that's only partly a joke)

Rob said...

I do like GH's pics. They are anti-photos.

To complete the Hill trinity, here's Selima Hill, and this photo is one of the best:

Colin Will said...

Interesting one Rob. I'm usually OK with the photos authors provide for CWP titles, but there's one I'm going to insist on changing before I bring out his new book. Talk about unflattering! As for my own ones, I have very few photos of myself - shy and retiring as I am. But I may have to talk to Gerry as well.

deemikay said...

Well, of course they're not anti-photos. Geoff is *very* photogenic and I'd love to photograph him. (As would any photographer.) And I doubt he could pose if you wanted him to. So what you see is him - real and naked. Too many people suffer from a fear of the camera - he has no fear.

And I did take that photograph of a poem of his... suitably blurred on the periphery. It's here.

Background Artist said...

Photoshop it. Overlay a thin wash of the commanding jowls of ian macmillan, the tousled locks of Tobias to make the women die dreaming of stealing you from your wife, a hint of the young Heaney circa 1972, as a basic rear mesh to subliminally watermark and activated the shoppers deepest area of trust and faith in the authorial contract between you as a newb and they as people who just don't wanna be let down Macca mate. Don't let the users of your magic down, as that is really not benificial to the Empire and may get you sent down the salt mines with some obscure no-seller shifting zero units.

Rob said...

Cheers, Colin.

David, yes you're right. 'Anti-photos' was a careless phrase. I was meaning that they were the complete opposite of a typical glitzy phtot used to sell a product. But GH's face has real character. In some ways, it's a photographic equivalent of his poems.

Des - "may get you sent down the salt mines with some obscure no-seller shifting zero units." - I had faith that you were going to buy a single copy of my book and save me from the salt mines. Don't let me down.

BarbaraS said...

OMG that's frightening the way Hill is staring so directly out of the frame; almost a challenge, almost 'come and have a go, if you think you're hard enough!' I would love to be that brave in front of the camera, but I'm not, I'm a chicken - no, I'm an ostrich...

Tobias Hill's picture, on the other hand, screams tight jeans at me... I really don't know why... ;)... goodness me, he shouldn't be let out; he'd be mobbed by screaming wimmin!

Chris Hamilton-Emery said...

http://saltpublishing.com/blogs/index.php?itemid=457

Rob said...

Heh! That's going to be a real classic blog post, Chris - if there is such a thing. Very funny, and plenty to think about too.

deemikay said...

I've thought of another option... childhood photos. Nothing contrived, just an indication of where they came from. (And that includes the ones of you picking your nose when you thought no-one was looking...)

apprentice said...

If they are more han a headshot they are called "environmental studies" these days - which is very posh tosh.

I like the Selima one a lot.