"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Photo Op

I'm such a creature of habit. For a lot of years I've had my annual formal photo session during my birthday week. And I appreciate tradition, including the annual tradition of a winter storm or blizzard on the actual day of the shoot.

Yes, I said "annual" photo shoot. I observe that many--possibly most--authors get by with a single fabulous photo for years on end. For some reason, this never quite worked for me--not that I'm particularly eager simply to mark the passage of time.

Although my own preference is to see somebody's photo on their book--for me it's an added connection--I doubt that most readers particularly care what authors look like. I do sometimes worry that certain publishers, editors, and agents are beginning to care a little too much...at least, it's rumoured to be true.

When I was an actress in theatre and film, frequently updated photos were a necessity and quite a hefty expense. Back in my student days I'd take on photographic modeling work for free in order to get decent pictures without paying. (Fully clothed, I hasten to add. There aren't any shocking pics from my past to come to light and create future scandal.)

Back then, I always had my basic 8 x 10 black and white head shot, but also a "composite" made up of smaller, diverse pictures to show the variety of looks I could achieve. All this stuff had to be reproduced in volume, for mail out and for auditions--adding to the costs and hassle.

As an author, I've continued to rely on photographic diversity. In the past, I had a portrait tailored to every genre in which I wrote. A simple, ordinary one ran beside my columns in the local newspaper. A soft, romancey or elegant one appeared on the back cover of my historical novels, and was mailed to newspaper and magazine reporters. A thoughtful, scholarly image accompanied my bio at history lectures. And so on. I even kept a poetic picture on hand to go with my poems--not that the publishers of my poetry ever wanted it.

For my formal shoots, I used to book a professional make up artist and a hairdresser. It seemed the best choice at the time, but looking back (and reviewing those excessively glam shots), I don't know why I bothered.

I'll never forget the time I was "in the chair" at a local salon, being made up and teased out in preparation for the photographer. One of my neighbours happened to stop in, walked past my chair of torture, and did a double-take. She then said, "Margaret--is that you? I didn't recognise you!"

This brought me to my senses rather abruptly. Remembering my own years of training, not to mention experience, in theatrical and photographic make up, I decided I could jolly well handle the job on my own. And I gave up the fakery of backcombing and thickly sprayed tresses. For better or worse, my hair would look like my hair.

And yes, I even dispensed with re-touching. (The bravest step of all!)

Duing summertime I sometimes do a more informal outdoor shoot up at the lake cottage, with its photogenic background of water, trees, mountains, and old wooden shingles. To get my "natural look" pictures, I press into service my husband, who really knows his way around a camera (when we met, he had a darkroom). Or, if she's in the area, his sister--a commercial photographer who does work for Target and Mervyn's and other national retailers.

My all-time favourite portrait shoot was in March 2003, a few days before my birthday. The photographer was Jacob Gerritsen, husband of bestselling author Tess. We worked in his marvellous, fully-equiped studio in a school building converted to a sort of art centre. Jacob's space, formerly a classroom, had big, tall windows to let in lots of natural light. Impressive examples of his work adorned the walls. The building offerered interesting nooks and crannies and corners as interesting backgrounds. He let me choose the music (I specifically remember Clannad). I survived the fan--it was my first time trying the "wind machine" look, and it was a blast, literally and figuratively. During our hours in the studio, we got some great stuff. I didn't mind contorting myself and rolling round on the floor for my personal, professional benefit. Or simply for the sake of Art.

That was, I believe, my first time working in digital. I loved the instant gratification--and the ease and comfort of instant deletion of pictures I disliked!

One of those '03 photos showed up in the back of my latest paperback edition, and I used it on my website. A very different one, in stark black and white, decorates an upstairs hallway in the Gerritsen house (or did the last time I was there.) Jacob has since given up the studio, along with his professional photography enterprise, passing the torch to his similarly talented son.

The Maine shoot took place on a gorgeous sunny day--it wasn't till the next day that the (inevitable) snow descended.

Last year's shoot, a couple of days after my birthday, happened during a blizzard that ultimately left 20-plus inches.

My birthday is next weekend, so the timing of yesterday's shoot was appropriate. As was the weather. The snowstorm cranked up in the afternoon and finished many hours later, leaving about 8 inches.

My friendly new blog photo is one of the results of my latest trial by camera. Others will wind up on my website or be used for author promo. Considering the number of frames shot, and endless clothing changes, there are relatively few acceptable choices. Photographers don't always agree with me about what works best, I suppose because I have a specific notion of how I think I look and how I want to look. Still, I'm the one who gets to pick, and I did. Each of my chosen few can serve a variety of purposes and represents any and all my various writing activities.

And they actually look like me (on an exceptionally good day.)

My secret favourite has to be this first test shot.

I'm still in my bathrobe, the very garment I wear on more writing days than I care to admit.

Frankly, it's the most representative of the Real Me (but with the contacts in and the cosmetics slathered on.)

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