I am many things. Photogenic is not one of them. I envy those confident souls who regularly post selfies on their social media accounts that broadcast to all their glowing skin, cascading locks, and winning smile. No, that’s not quite right. I don’t envy their good looks. Being a bit of a plain Jane suits me. A bookworm from an early age, even as I became a teenager, the intricacies of makeup application, hair styling, and the ability to throw together a fetching outfit failed to appeal. Why bother with all of that when I’d rather have my nose stuck in a book?
Over the years, however, there have been times when I’ve been forced into events that have required my participation in A Photo Shoot of Great Importance. High school graduation. My wedding. My children’s weddings. And now, thanks to this website—along with the knowledge that with publication, an author’s image must grace many a book jacket—The Author Pic. A photograph that should broadcast to one’s readers how seriously devoted—or lighthearted—one is about one’s contribution to literature. Some talented souls, of course, have penned tomes significant enough that their work is eventually destined to become part of The Canon. My hopes are far less grandiose. As much as I love discovering a wonderful book at The Dollar Store, I certainly don’t want to ever find mine there.
Finding the perfect author pic, however, involves far more than extending one’s arm, I-phone in hand, before pressing the camera button in the desperate hope that—despite any previous failed attempts—this time great art will be produced. As in, move over, Rembrandt. There’s a new portraitist in town. Unfortunately, it takes more than the latest development in cellphone technology to produce an image worth viewing. I wrote a novel once in which a character—still in shock that she’s been arrested—is forced to have her mugshot taken. The official photographer of her downward spiral instructs her, “Give me longing, with a touch of regret.”
In my case, viewing my own photograph produces far more regret than longing. Although I am rather fond of a bathroom selfie I took once. Cropped to remove any evidence of the location, the photo was also changed to black-and-white. Both as a nod to my love of classic cinema and the fact that my ruddy Irish complexion is best when not viewed in blazing Technicolor. To my eye, the photo is a success. My head is turned three-quarters, while my lips are curved in a Mona Lisa smile. The photo’s overall effect communicates my bemusement at this whole author pic business.
A bathroom selfie was fine to send for my 2017 participant profile in the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, but with an official portrait on my author website, something more professional is required. In need of inspiration, I’ve scoured the Internet. By examining the official portraits of other writers, I’ve discovered a range of images. Some communicate serious intent. Others—such as Garth Greenwell’s playfully covering his face with his hands, with only one eye peering out at the viewer—are far more whimsical. While several astound me with the beauty of both the subject and the photograph itself.
In the hands of the right photographer, an author pic can become art. My preparation for my upcoming photo shoot will be relatively simple. I know I need to dress in a flattering shade, wear makeup, and make sure my hair isn’t a complete disaster. Why is it that the tousled hair—I just got out of bed look—works so much better on a pouting twenty-year-old model than it does on a middle-aged grandmother?
My goal for my official author pic is a modest one. I don’t need to look twenty years younger—or, for that matter, pounds lighter—but I do hope to be a subject worthy of the photographer’s attention. And if my lifelong curse of Photos Gone Wrong rears its ugly head once more, I can always go a different route. Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. Should my author pic show my hands covering my face, with one eye staring out at the world, consider the photo my homage to Garth.