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.
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?!)
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.
Recently, I was asked by a friend at BNY Mellon to showcase some of my portraits of individuals and couples from the LGBT community in conjunction with their partnership with PFLAG in honor of Pride Month. My friend, Peter, biked with my husband and I across Europe in 2002 in the European AIDS Vaccine Ride - 575 miles in seven days with a $5k minimum fundraising goal to help fund research for an AIDS vaccine - and we had kept in touch ever since; it was a pretty intense bonding experience! Peter had seen my Boston Authors Project show at GrubStreet, and asked if I could do something similar for BNY Mellon's partnership with PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends and Allies united with LGBTQ people to move equality forward) - of course I said yes.
For this project, I photographed Joseph, an architect, and Manuel, one of my former students at MIT, now a scientist, along with a few others - I could only choose a couple of these for the show, so I'm expanding a bit here. Both Manuel and Joe are incredibly funny guys, smart, and a joy to be around - Manuel has a particular touch for interacting with kids of all ages (my daughter snagged him as I took Joe to the studio first), and Joe has a wicked collection of expressions that were just a joy to shoot, as well as similar literary tastes - everything from mindfulness to Orson Scott Card (we both enjoy the fiction, though neither of us share that author's politics). My goal with this collection of photographs was not only to reveal each man's loveliness and character but to also to describe the warmth and joy of their relationship.
[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.
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
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."
Printing by: Bob Korn Imaging http://bobkornimaging.com
Film by: John Neely, documentary filmmaker http://neely.tv