Editorial

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)

Behind the photo shoot: Tracie Thoms, film and stage actress

In late April, I photographed actress and singer Tracie Thoms, who's probably best known for her work in RentCold Case, and The Devil Wears Prada.

Tracie was preparing for a gala for her alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts (the performing arts high school which inspired the movie Step Up), and the school kindly allowed us our photo shoot in their auditorium prior to her rehearsal. Part of the high school was converted from a grand old hotel from the turn of the century, and the auditorium was located in a beautiful old ballroom with gorgeous architectural details.

In the below images prior to the shoot, Tracie is touching up her make-up. In college, she acquired the nickname of "Tink Tink" for her ability to quickly and flawlessly attach her false eyelashes, and she still knows her way around a make-up brush.

We began by shooting on stage, using strobes and reflectors to create the warm glow and illuminate the highlights of her dark hair from the blackness of the stage.

Above, Tracie is chatting with her former musical theater teacher, Becky Mossing, while I adjust my lighting to my satisfaction. Milk crates are a photographer's best friend - you can use them to carry gear, to stand on if you're short like me, and of course, as seating for your clients. I feel like I should write a post just about the distinguished behinds that have sat on my various milk crates.

 

After shooting on stage, I moved Tracie into the audience seating area, and backlit her curls. We multi-tasked by having her sing with her former teacher, to prepare for the following day's gala.

Periodically, students would come by the auditorium in order to meet Tracie, and we'd take a moment from the shoot in order for her to say hello and pose for a few photographs. I couldn't resist this girl's hair - she and Tracie excitedly admired each other's hairstyles while they waited for another student to line them up for a photo.

After finishing up our shoot, I shot for a few minutes while Tracie rehearsed for the following day's gala with Becky and pianist Michael Sheppard. After enjoying the private concert, I quietly packed up, content with the day's events.