Boston Authors

Portraits of British writer and jazz musician, Dominic Green

Writer and jazz musician, Dominic Green, was one of the most delightful people I've had the good fortune to photograph – a mix of self-deprecating good humor, wickedly keen intelligence (he studied English Literature at St. John's College, Oxford), and a fount of wonderful anecdotes about his theater-bred family and colorful musician friends.

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Portraits of Jackie VanderBrug, author of Gender Lens Investing

I recently had the good fortune to photograph brilliant Jackie VanderBrug, co-author of Gender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns, and Impact.

Portrait of Jackie VanderBrug, author of Gender Lens Investing

The subject of her book is fascinating: women today are an enormous force in the global economy—as successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives and family breadwinners. Yet gender-based violence, the absence of women's legal rights and the persistent wage gap stubbornly remain. This paradox creates an unprecedented and underexplored opportunity for investors. This is the first book of its kind to examine, in depth the advantages of integrating gender into investment analysis. While other books speak to growing numbers and influence of women, Gender Lens Investing moves from economic trends to financial strategy.

Jackie was looking for a portrait that conveyed her extensive knowledge base of her area, and conveyed a strong, smart presence. We worked with different backgrounds, lighting, and expression to nail the image she was looking for in her new book. 

Jackie VanderBrug, author of Gender Lens Investing

Mystery writer portraits, New England chapter

Photographing mystery writers is an absolute delight; I get a little tingle of happiness when I'm contacted by an author who delves into the deep dark depths of the human psyche to create their stories. Recently, I photographed Ray Daniel and Anne Macdonald, both wonderful writers and human beings, who are members - and in the case of Ray, the president - of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, New England chapter.

When photographing a writer of this type, I try to avoid the obvious cliches, but infuse a subtle tinge of drama and gravitas through lighting and positioning. The goal is to create an author photo for book jacket and publicity use that tells a visual story about both the book and author in a beautiful manner, inviting their readers to get to know both them, and their books, better.

A photographer amidst writers: venturing into the Muse in the Marketplace writers' conference

My booth and the exhibitor's area and bookstore at the Muse in the Marketplace at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel

A table spread with photographs and a fishbowl in front of me, three seven-foot banners dwarfing me from behind, I prepared myself to meet hundreds of writers over three days at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel with a 50/50 mix of exuberance and uncertainty. This scenario lay before me earlier this month when I had decided to take a stab at being a sponsor/exhibitor (party of one) at the Muse in the Marketplace writers' conference organized by GrubStreet, one of the nation's leading creative writing centers (and where my show, the Boston Authors Project, resides). My expectations were fairly low-key; connect with writers, and see how I could help them prepare their book jacket and publicity photography for their upcoming releases. 

In truth, I wasn't sure what to expect. I generally work with folks one-on-one, with the exception of gallery openings and speaking at events, so I was equal parts hesitant and excited to take this on. For the first time, I had put together a fishbowl-type of raffle for an author to win a portrait sitting, which was a lot of fun and led to a full fishbowl (won by the lovely Kelly Ford - expect a blog post of Ms. Ford in the soon future). There were photographs in place for people to pick up and examine, a large screen with a slideshow of author images for attendees to peruse, and the requisite marketing materials (livened up by the fabulous faces of past clients). 

The wonderful thing about authors as clients is that they uniformly have interesting lives to draw from; at the Muse, I met writers who were art historians, writers who were vets, writers who were professors, writers who fundraise, and writers who work at bookstores. Fiction writers, poets, business writers, all who had come both to get inspired and to learn the intricacies of how to get a book out into the world. While many of the folks I spoke with were from the Northeast, I met a good handful who had certainly gotten their frequent flier milage in - some from California, the Midwest, one from Ireland, all happy to take in as much as they could in three days.

Snapshots of registration table and the morning breakfast briefings at the Muse in the Marketplace

Snapshots of registration table and the morning breakfast briefings at the Muse in the Marketplace

Many of my conversations revolved around the following points:

  • Are you a writer? (Not really, unless maintaining this blog counts. And academic articles.)
  • What made you want to photograph writers? (Answer: here.)
  • Jokes with the punchline being that I only photograph people who hate to be in the spotlight. (It's mostly true!)
  • Tell me about how the publicity process works when a book comes out. (I did, very happy to help with that, as it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially to newly-published authors.)
  • Where are the photos you create used? (Book jackets, book publicity, editorial/magazine use, webpages, social media.)
  • Do you photograph anything but portraits? (I specialize just in commercial/editorial portraiture.)
  • Your work is beautiful (Thank you - who doesn't feel good about hearing that?!)
Snapshots behind the booth at the Muse in the Marketplace. From left, celebrating the last day of Passover, and right, my loot from Porter Square Books

Snapshots behind the booth at the Muse in the Marketplace. From left, celebrating the last day of Passover, and right, my loot from Porter Square Books

Some of the highlights of my time:

  • Seeing beautiful artwork by an author/collage artist
  • Reconnecting with past clients and current friends, like the glorious Lara Wilson and Rita Zoey Chin (who also spoke about the essentials of dialogue and is one of the kindest human beings on the planet), and the super-delightful Whitney Scharer
  • Stopping by the panels of distinguished writers Jennifer Haigh (Topic: Building the World of the Novel - who is also lovely and a fantastic writer - check out her newest novel), and new-to-me writers Anjali Mitter Duva (Topic: You're the Boss! Taking control of your book promotion plan) and Crystal King (Topic: How to use social media for self-promotion and not be annoying) - though sadly I couldn't stay long, as I had to get back down to the exhibitor's room
  • Buying books at the Porter Square books table, run by the delightful and wickedly funny Robert Smyth
  • Getting hugs from GrubStreet staff and friends like Eve Bridburg and Sonya Larson, who with Christopher Castellani did a wonderful job running the event
  • Making connections with the other vendors - I kibitzed with the beautifully-named Jana Van der Veer from Lesley University, and Jenn Scheck-Kahn of GrubStreet and Journal of the Month
  • Eating matzoh behind my booth as I finished out Passover in the most crumbly manner possible

All-in-all, it was a delightful way to meet some fascinating people! I slept well afterwards, too.

Writers and presenters  Anjali Mitter Duva  (Topic: You're the Boss! Taking control of your book promotion plan) and  Crystal King  (Topic: How to use social media for self-promotion and not be annoying)

Writers and presenters Anjali Mitter Duva (Topic: You're the Boss! Taking control of your book promotion plan) and Crystal King (Topic: How to use social media for self-promotion and not be annoying)

Portraits of a history professor who brings working stiffs to life (especially early European artisans)

From the first e-mail I received from Sarah G. Ross, PhD, I knew I was fortunate enough to meet a kindred spirit. Sarah's delightful and wicked sense of humor, quirkiness, and warm humanity made her a joy to photograph, as well as an honor due to her impressive background as an academic and author in early European history at Boston College,

History professor, Sarah G. Ross, PhD. Boston College's Stokes Hall, Chestnut Hill, MA.

Given her background, Sarah was looking for an academic/author portrait that placed her in the Gothic architecture at Boston College; the more Gothic, the better, said Sarah. She also requested dramatic light, which I was happy to deliver. Much of her work follows the everyday life of past European artisans, and it was only fitting that the imagery, in a nod to her subjects, would be infused with art and beauty.

History professor, Sarah G. Ross, PhD. Boston College's Bapst Library, Chestnut Hill, MA.

With my assistant, Tim, we kept an eye out for archways, textured stone, and stained glass to frame Sarah's portraits, and Boston College's campus did not disappoint. Our only sadness was that unlike Oxford University, the inspiration for BC's architecture, there was a sad lack of gargoyles on campus. We joked that should we do another shoot, we would have to install stealth gargoyles somewhere - perhaps the BC version of a MIT-like "hack."

Who said that professors were formal? Sarah made my assistant, Tim, and I crack up during lighting tests. 

History professor, Sarah G. Ross, PhD. Boston College's Bapst Library, Chestnut Hill, MA.

My assistant, Tim, helping out Mother Nature with the lighting.

Despite our sad lack of gargoyles on campus, we found a surplus of beautiful locations to shoot, and as the sun and rain came and went, got some gorgeous moments, with some help, as needed, by strobes and our voice-activated light stand, Tim (who is a retired historian himself).

Sarah now has a collection of images to chose from to use for her professional needs, whether it be a speaker bio, author photo for an upcoming book, or for online professional use on her academic blog. All in all, this shoot was delightful from start to end, and I look forward to following Sarah's work in the future!

When author photos are for the birds...

Despite the breezy tone of my title, I have to say that new author, Neil Hayward, is one of the most charming gentlemen I've met! He recently contacted me as his new book -  "Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year" -  was coming out in May, and his editor sent him my way to create the imagery for his book jacket and his promotional material.

Neil Hayward, author, Arlington, MA

Hayward, a rather educated Oxford/Cambridge-educated scientist and consultant, decided to take a year off and attempt what’s known as a “big year” — seeing as many different kinds of birds as possible, traversing the continent to do so. He managed 749 which made him the North American bird spotting champion. And prompted him to write a book, as well.

When he came my way, what could I do but take him outside? We had a lovely day in terms of clarity, though it was brutally cold, which Neil took like a trouper, eventually becoming rather blue in the process, but certainly game to try new landscapes outside.

We also shot in the studio, playing with strobes and ambient light, to get some beautiful headshots. Though as much as I love my studio, I have to say that the field trip outdoors felt necessary and true in order to capture the spirit of Neil's big year.

Neil Hayward, author, Arlington, MA

Portraits of Harvard's Adam Sandel, philosopher and scion, for Filosofie Magazine. Cambridge, MA.

A Netherlands-based publication, Filosofie, entirely dedicated to philosophers, recently contacted me to photograph Adam Sandel, PhD, a Harvard lecturer in social studies and rising star in the philosophy world. The art director of Filosofie was looking for portraits for an interview-based article for their November edition of the magazine, and gave me a lot of creative freedom to create a several images that highlighted this young professor whose new book was shortly to be released in Europe.

Sandel, son of noted philosopher Michael Sandel, also of Harvard, was a joy to photograph. Filosfie's interviewer was running a bit late, so I photographed a bit of the interview while I waited. 

Adam Sandel interview with Filosofie Magazine. Cambridge, MA.

Once the interview was complete, I shot Adam both indoors and outdoors on campus, using several different lighting techniques, first in the ambient light, and then shooting to create a virtual night in order to separate Adam from the background.

Adam was infinitely patient as I tinkered around with several lighting set-ups (my assistant's car sadly broke down in one of Boston's innumerable tunnels, so I was flying solo). Adam beautifully coped with me dragging him to different setups, turning and twisting him around, with a lovely personable sense of humor and a quiet thoughtfulness as he answered my questions and quickly adapted to each physical and lighting environment. A lovely afternoon all around, and I even finished on time for him to make a family dinner!

BNY Mellon | PFLAG Pride Portrait Project

Last week, I blogged about Manuel and Joe, two men I photographed for BNY Mellon and PFLAG, to showcase portraits of members of the LGBTQ community in order to raise awareness about Pride Month. Peter Tenggren, my contact at BNY Mellon who asked me to create this small group of work, sent me the below picture of the portraits, (printed by Bob Korn Imaging) now settled in the first of its four traveling stops throughout the Boston area for the month of June. I thought I'd share with you all the images, and very importantly, the words behind each person photographed, below.

 

The Pride Project
Artist’s Statement

I’m delighted to work with BNY Mellon and PFLAG, as a proud ally, to present this collection of five portraits of vibrant members of the LGBT community in honor of Pride Month. With each photograph, I worked to display the humanity, warmth, and intelligence of the person pictured; to show both their inner world as well as to document each person’s features, relationships, and character. Part of the process to create these images was to get to know what was important to each person, and to create a safe and warm environment so that each man and woman pictured would feel at ease to truly be themselves. My goal with each person photographed was to foster a genuine friendship and alliance enabling the viewer of the portrait to feel as though they had somehow already known the person in the photograph. As a portrait photographer, storyteller, and former psychotherapist, it is vital to me that each portrait creates a narrative and sense of recognition between the viewer and the viewed.

- Sharona Jacobs, June 4, 2015 www.sharonaphoto.com

Sharona Jacobs
The Pride Project
Amy and Lori, 2012
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 30 inches

Amy:

“This portrait was taken hours before I married my best friend. It was amazing to have one of the best days of my life documented in such intimate and lovely detail. To me Pride is confidently walking down the street, holding hands with my wife while pushing our 18-month-old twins in their stroller. In the past 20 years my Prideful life has shifted from bar-fueled weekends to Saturday Gymboree outings. What hasn’t changed is me going about my out life in the most honest way possible.”

Lori:

"Pride is raising our children to know that Different doesn't mean Lesser. Differences are a good thing and we should always try to embrace what is different about ourselves and others. Our family might look a little different to some people, but it is full of love and laughter and both the family we were born with AND the family we chose." 

Sharona Jacobs
The Pride Project
Mark, 2012
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 30 inches

This portrait of Mark was taken the day Lori and Amy were married, and he and his partner hosted their celebration. Amy: "There’s the family you’re born with and the family you choose. Our chosen family includes two of the kindest, most generous people on the planet who opened their home to host our fabulous wedding.”

Sharona Jacobs
The Pride Project
Robin Lippincott, 2015
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 27.4 inches

Robin: "I am a writer of literary fiction and nonfiction. I have two books coming out: Blue Territory: A Mediation on the Life and Work of Joan Mitchell (November 2015), and Rufus + Syd, a young adult novel co-written with Julia Watts (Spring 2016). I am also the author of the novels In the Meantime, Our Arcadia, and Mr. Dalloway, and the short story collection The 'I' Rejected. My fiction/nonfiction has appeared in over 30 journals, including "The Paris Review," "American Short Fiction," "Fence," "Memorious," "The Literary Review," "The New York Times Book Review," and others. I teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Spalding University. Simply put, pride means having the self-respect to be fully myself.”

Manuel and Joseph, Pride Portrait Project, BNY Mellon and PFLAG
Manuel and Joseph, Pride Portrait Project, BNY Mellon and PFLAG

Sharona Jacobs
The Pride Project
Manuel and Joseph, 2015
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 26.5 inches

Manuel: "We are constantly making each other laugh. A common scene would include me talking about my day, but in Sofia Vergara's voice, followed by Joe bursting out laughing with his eyes shut, probably thinking to himself, "I hope this is only part of today's show, and not what I actually signed up for!" The roles reverse when Joe starts walking around the kitchen imitating a praying mantis while re-enacting a scene from Isabella Rossellini’s, "Green Porno" (which we went to see on our first Valentine). But life is not all about laughter and smiles. With our highly sensitive and introspective personalities, we often find ourseleves having to support and uplift each other, especially after reading one article too many about some form of injustice in the world. In this higly curated society driven by selfies and social media, we are proud to show all sides of our love, from laughter to tears. And as Milennials, we are thankful that we can safely show this connection outside of our private spaces (even if Joe sometimes shrugs off one too many of my PDAs)."

Sharona Jacobs
The Pride Project Joseph, 2012
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 30 inches

Joe: "I have an innate fear of photographs. Perhaps it's from a youth deeply concerned with judgement and being misunderstood. Or perhaps it's because I've spent my life seeking out difference and broadening my knowledge, skills, experiences, and connections into the multi-faceted person I am today; I feared a portrait could not distill this. Yet Pride, for me, is an inversion of that fear. It is acceptance, celebration, and love for the diversity both within and outside ourselves. And it is in this light that I couldn't be more proud to show--at least an aspect of--our selves and our love.”

Shalon interview featuring author Robin Lippincott: part of the independent creatives series

A few months ago, I posted about the Shalon, a cross-collaborative professional creative group formed between myself, an author, an artist, and a filmmaker. Inspired by the concept of 18th century French salons, we decided to meet monthly to discuss our goals, be accountable to one another, and brainstorm ideas. The three menfolk of our group suggested the name based on the first three letters of my name. Being an independent creative professional can challenge the most stalwart of creative souls, and this group helps keep all of us focused and productive, both creatively and from the business standpoint. I hope that this, and future interviews with fellow independent creatives will inspire and support those of us making a living with our art. In that initial post, I mentioned that I'd be focusing on the Shalon-ers individually so you can learn a little more about them and their work. This week, I interviewed our resident writer, Robin Lippincott, the author of the novels "In the Meantime", "Our Arcadia", and "Mr. Dalloway", among many other published works.

Robin Shalon-7120
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Sharona:

Hi Robin, and thanks so much for speaking to us about you and your work. Could you tell us a little bit about you and your work?

Robin: I am a writer of literary fiction and nonfiction. I have two books coming out: Blue Territory: A Mediation on the Life and Work of Joan Mitchell (November 2015), and Rufus + Syd, a young adult novel co-written with Julia Watts (Spring 2016). I am also the author of the novels In the Meantime, Our Arcadia, and Mr. Dalloway, and the short story collection, The 'I' Rejected. My fiction/nonfiction has appeared in over 30 journals, including "The Paris Review," "American Short Fiction," "Fence," "Memorious," "The Literary Review," "The New York Times Book Review," and others. I teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Spalding University, and am also an avid film/museum/gallery goer, as well as a frequent walker in the city.

Sharona: How did you first venture into writing?

Robin: I first got into writing as a result of grief, not death but loss, as has been true for so many writers—one long, hot, long ago summer in Central Florida, where I grew up. Van Gogh's letters to his brother, collected in Dear Theo, and Anne Frank's Diary, were seminal aspects of my aesthetic and moral education that summer.

Sharona: 

What are the greatest challenges in your work, and what helps you overcome them?

Robin: The greatest challenge in the work itself is simply getting it right, and in creating something that's beautiful and true. And then there are the challenges that occur at the intersection of art and commerce, at which there's most always a collision: sometimes it's only a bump or a scratch or a dent; at other times the vehicle is totaled. In both cases, you've just got to keep at it, teeth (sometimes) gritted.

Sharona: Whose work do you admire or influences you?

Robin: The list is long. I consider Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence as my literary parents, with Emily Dickinson as a great aunt, and from there it's largely the great minds and/or stylists (the writer's writers), as well as a few Southern writers, whom I most admire. Here's a shortlist:  Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, John Berger, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin, Elizabeth Hardwick, James Salter, Grace Paley, James Schuyler, Toni Morrison, Renata Adler, Michael Ondaatje, W. G. Sebald, Anne Carson....

Sharona: 

How is the Shalon, or meeting in other creative professional groups, helpful to you?

Robin: The Shalon is invaluable to me for several reasons. First, I believe the artistic pursuit (and the life that goes with that) is best and perhaps only really understood by other artists; in my experience, non-artists just don't/can't fully get it. And so I receive meaningful emotional support, both generally and also specifically. And I also get ideas and inspiration, and stimulation, as well as direct, inside exposure to the work of artists working in other art forms.

Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Jane Attanucci, poet

Jane recently came to me because her first book of poetry was about to be published by Finishing Line Press, and she was looking for a book jacket photo that represented both her and her work.

Jane Attanucci blog-1245
2015-03-19_0004

She explained that she was looking for a quiet, contemplative image that would accurately represent her keen mind and curiosity, as well as the warmth of her personality. I learned that we both enjoy photographs that showcase honest, "in between" moments, conveying thoughtfulness and a investigative process, so her images needed to capture that sensibility. In addition to writing poetry, Jane has been a professor of psychology and department chair for many years, and meeting her and getting to chat with her was such a treat for me - I always relish the opportunity to chat with those who worked in psychology, as I did for several years.

To suit Jane, I shot against a lighter neutral background, and bounced light to create a delicacy and softness to her imagery. She has incredible green eyes, and we chose an outfit in a mossy green both to highlight her features, as well as to pull in the earthy quality of her new book, "First Mud."

Her book is available now through Finishing Line Press.

Boston Authors Project Exhibit Opening at GrubStreet - A Short Film

[embed]https://vimeo.com/110148643[/embed] This short film by John Neely documents the opening of the Boston Authors Project, a permanent photographic exhibition of author portraits at GrubStreet by portrait photographer Sharona Jacobs, which took place on September 12, 2014, and includes interviews of the authors who were photographed for the project. Each black and white image, some measuring up to 40", includes snippets of each author's work, as well as the photographer's observations of each shoot.

Regie Gibson, Slam Poet by Sharona Jacobs

Featuring photographs of and writing by: Steve Almond Rita Zoey Chin Nicole Terez Dutton Regie Gibson Anthony James Pablo Medina Rishi Reddi Jane Roper Mako Yoshikawa

Opening of Boston Authors Project at GrubStreet. Photo: Jeremy Kriegel

Of the project, Sharona says: "Writers are the perfect muse; they have a rich inner world, excel at communicating, and have interesting and varied life experiences to draw upon. The Boston Authors Project developed organically with GrubStreet; I had been photographing writers as a personal project for several months when I noticed, again and again, that a creative writer I was photographing was involved with GrubStreet as a teacher or student. Collaborating with such a great hub of fantastic writers has been a portrait photographer's dream come true."

Regie Gibson, slam poet, being filmed by John Neely, at GrubStreet

Boston Author Project opening at GrubStreet. Author and actor Anthony James and friends. Photo: Jeremy Kriegel

Boston Author Project opening at GrubStreet. Author Jane Roper and friends. Photo: Jean Kung

Author Pablo Medina

Opening of the Boston Authors Project. Photo: Jeremy Kriegel

Printing by: Bob Korn Imaging http://bobkornimaging.com

Film by: John Neely, documentary filmmaker http://neely.tv