Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Author Photo in Hell's Kitchen

I'm told that I'm not photogenic, and the photographs have confirmed it, most of the time. So I was surely pessimistic about the author's photo shoot. It would be terrible. It would be ugly.

I was wrong.

My good fortune was the intervention of a favorite teacher, a writer I admire named Erin McGraw, who introduced me to the best author's photographer in New York, Miriam Berkley.

I met Miriam at her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, a storybook kind of place, with books crammed in every crevice, bookshelves lining the halls, books packed two and three deep on every shelf. Before we went outside to shoot, she showed me pictures she had taken of Stephen Hawking and Margaret Atwood. She told me about an afternoon with Bernard Malamud; we talked about his late novel Dubin's Lives.

In short, she was the sort of person I didn't think existed anymore -- an artist among artists, interested in artists, spending her life documenting theirs. It is not hard to imagine her thriving among the generation of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Maxwell Perkins. Gertrude Stein would likely have written an incomprehensible book and attributed its authorship to her.

We went up onto the roof of her apartment building. It had been raining, and every time the wind blew, sheets of water fell on her head from the higher buildings surrounding the roof. I could feel the cold in my bones. The conditions were terrible, but Miriam was willing to stay outside as long as I was. For an hour we worked in the wet and the cold, catching the new light with every shifting of the clouds and the sun, standing, sitting, squatting, leaning, Miriam giving instructions all the way: A little to the left, a little to the right, give me serious, smile, don't smile, give me hunky. I tried to pretend that the camera was a friend, a girlfriend, a lover, a brother, my mother, my wife. I felt very foolish, but I was determined to try everything. She was working so hard for me, I didn't want to let her down.

In the end, I was very happy. The photo is as flattering as a photo of me could be. And despite the exhaustion of working in the wet and cold, I left feeling the same kind of happy I feel after a pleasant evening with friends. Miriam was good company -- smart, interesting, tough-minded, open to trying things. I hope I'll get to work with her again.


The Renner Family (Haiti) Blog said...

It's a nice photo indeed!

annulla said...

Who told you that you aren't photogenic? That's nonsense; you look great. Of course, it helps to work with a wonderful photographer, too. Glad you found someone who could do you justice.

Blather From Brooklyn