Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Author Photo

Quite a few years ago, some of my students were being photographed by the guy from our local newspaper. He was a professional photographer, or photojournalist, I guess, since he was being paid for what he did. As with any group of women not used to automatically tarting up for the camera, there was a bit of hesitation and giggling and embarrassment. I always remember the guy saying, "The only people who hate being photographed are those who don't like the way they look." Hmm, that sure brought us all down to earth. No more giggling around this guy!

These days, it's almost a feat not to be photographed somewhere, somehow, and then find yourself tagged on Facebook. Ugh. Let's face it, some of us photograph well, many of us don't. The camera has ways of making you look terrible! When you least expect it. And of course, we change. We'd love to keep that glam photo from 15 years ago, but we don't look like that anymore. When my purse was stolen last year and I had to get a replacement driver's licence, my relief was immense when they still had my old (flattering, believe it or not) photo on file and could issue a new licence with me looking ... normal.

If you publish books, the author photo is unavoidable. When you are able to choose, like with the photo of me that goes with this blog, I go for something that looks happy. In fact, this photo was taken in San Antonio during a wonderful day with two fellow children's writers (Hi, Kristi and Brian!) and it shows. On the other hand, tell me I have to do an author photo, and immediately I freeze up, and that shows too. Maybe I need to indulge in some pre-photo meditation.

In the interests of research, I Googled author photos and did a quick survey of the first fifty I found. Here are my results (not to be taken as set in concrete, just a casual once-over):

* 30 were smiling, 8 were half-smiling, 12 were not smiling
* 12 were in a garden setting, 3 sat with their hands by their face (a favourite thoughtful writer pose in the past, now clearly out of fashion), 4 posed with books or writing implements (another favourite gone), 2 stood at podiums, 2 posed with animals/pets, and 28 posed with generic backgrounds that could have been anywhere (is this the safest option, I wonder? no way anyone can draw a wrong conclusion?)
* 7 authors looked at ease, 4 authors looked frightened, 32 writers looked neutral but a little wary.

So, having been advised it was time for a new author photo (the result of a haircut that does change the way I look, although I wouldn't have thought so beforehand), I pondered how it might be done. My last one was taken up in the bush. Perfect setting in which I am bound to feel relaxed. Once upon a time, I'd have said let's do it in front of piles of books. But is this passe now? It would seem so. My favourite photo of myself is with a twelve-foot python, but ... it was before my haircut.

OK, my preferred option is in the bush with a wombat. As the wombat in our bush has only been photographed successfully once in six years, this might cause a problem. I could Photoshop myself into that one, but it will probably look a little odd. I could sit in the ferns and wait for the butterflies to settle on me. I could sit on a tree stump and wait for the birds to ... never mind. And for those of you who have already suggested it, I think the Johnny Depp option, tempting though it sounds, might be wishful thinking.

I need help. What are your favourite author photos? What makes you look at one and think There goes an author? Do you favour a background? Smiling or non-smiling? Books or not? All and any ideas considered!


Snail said...

Dunno about my favourite author photo. I quite like the one of James Lee Burke on the back of the HB edition of 'Rain Gods'. There he is, lined and sun-beaten, leaning on a very rustic post and rail fence, with his stetson in his hands. Suits the contents of the book very well.

Have you seen the author pics on the latest set of stamps? The authors' comments were wonderful (esp. Bryce Courtenay's).

Sherryl said...

I remember that photo! It's great, isn't it? I'll add that to the list of 'taken in nature setting'.
I have only seen the photos of Peter Carey on the stamps. Will check the others - on the Australia Post site?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

What's "the Johnny Depp option"?

Sherryl said...

The Johnny Depp option is JD as Jack Sparrow, me dressed as a pirate (and looking better than Keira Knightly) and us together on a pirate ship.
Told you it was wishful thinking!

Claire said...

I'm following this with interest Sherryl. I'm also desperately in need of a new pic. You've already helped me narrow the options. Are you going to get a professional photographer or do it yourself (with the aid of a friend or a clever camera)?

Sherryl said...

Good question. My husband has an excellent camera and the last ones he took were OK.
The question is: setting. Books as a background or prop seem to be out of favour. Computer or pen, ditto.
I'm considering a tutu at the moment, out of desperation!

Claire said...

I'd pay to see that!

Texture as background? Rock face or lead light window or ship planks :)Unidentifiable but interesting.

Tracey said...

Be careful with the tutu -- people might mistake you for Nina Hagen!

You know you could always ask Pam... I reckon when it's for something like this it's probably worth the money. It's your public face, after all.