Sunday, July 8, 2012

THE FINE ART OF THE AUTHOR PHOTO

Hello all,

So one of the things that often happens upon the publication of a new book is an updated author photo. I'm not a big fan of photos in general, because, to be honest, I usually end up looking like a tool. I'm not really photogenic, plus the author photo is generally expected to convey some gravitas about the writer, or mystery, or sangfroid, or something noble and honorable in any case.

That never happens with me.

With other authors, sure. Like these ones of Cormac McCarthy and Richard Ford, taken I believe by Marion Ettlinger:




Hey, those dudes look writerly. Cormac looks direct and rough-hewn; Ford looks rather erudite and introspective. Then there's me:



I look like a big bloated dingus. A mop-haired bananahead. An onion-eyed puff-monster. Like maybe I do my writing with crayons on foolscap.

The above photo was taken in 2005. My first book was set to come out. My publisher asked for photos. I tried to come up with some of my own. My mother and father and friends took the odd snap to see if something would work. I ended up settling on black and white, because the author shots of those I admired were often b&w. These were the results:





Uuuuhh, not exactly Marion Ettlinger quality. Then again, we're working with imperfect clay, here. But these do royally stink.

Dig those authorly adornments: the hippie-ish hemp necklace (he's sooooo authentic!) and the sleeves rolled up to bare my badass tattoo—given to me at 20 at Way Cool Tattoos in Niagara Falls by a man named Harley Charlie. Because, hey, I normally go around with my shirtsleeves yanked up to my armpits don't ya know. Also, I should've tucked my damn shirt in. I look like a dour pear.

So these were adjudged crap by my publisher. Fair dinkum. They said: We'll send you to a pro photographer. So they sent me to this dude in the warehouse district in Calgary, where I was living at the time. He set up some lights (you see them in the photo there, fanning out behind me? Very classy!) and took some shots. I forget what exactly he may have said to me in terms of motivating me, but judging by the end result it may've been something along the lines of:

PHOTOBUG: "Okay, Craig, sit there looking like a bloated toad! PERFECT! You are OWNING it! Now cross your eyes slightly and pooch your lip out like a sucker-fish—this is IT, baby! I'm LOVING it! You are making love to my camera—deplorable, spastic, unsatisfying love! Hey, quick question: did you actually, y'know, BRUSH your hair? No? Wonderful! It looks like a dead tawny muskrat on your skull, and can I just say: hubba-hubba! Keep it up—and remember, this photo will be THE photo that readers will identify with you for all your days!"

I think the shoot cost $500. And again, this is the fruit of that labor:


Jeebus. I mean, holy lord. Just fix your eyes on that (or don't). I mean, really, fasten it in your mind.

And this is likely the most used photo of me in existence. It's always popping up all over the place like a bad penny.

For example. The other day someone sent me a link to an article: Ten Writers Every Man Should Read. You've got Harry Crews (awesome), Hubert Selby Jr (awesome), Jonathan Lethem (ditto), Iceberg Slim (fantastic) and others. And me. Which, hey, that's great. But I'm flipping though the gallery, each author photo included—most of which are totally badass.

And then there's Maude:

THAT SHITTY PHOTO REARS ITS UGLY HEAD

So, great! Fantastic! Marvellous! Couldn't be happier!

But the fact is, it's not the worst one of me. Because any writer will tell you that when s/he goes to a festival, there are usually photographers there. They are all good people, nice people, helpful and cool people. They take your pics because if one of their photos becomes the official author photo, and your book happens to sell in a lot of countries ... well, that's a lot of book covers and newspaper articles, which means a lot of reprint fees.

So these photographers are a little like speculators. They're betting that you become a big writer and that their photo is chosen to adorn your books.

And there's this funny intersection between you, as a writer, how you want to be depicted visually, and the photographer giving you instructions to perhaps put you in your best light.

This has led to many regrettable photos. Visual boners, you might call them—not in that they would provoke a boner, or a lady-boner, but in the old-school meaning of the word, ie: a horrid mistake.

For example, there's what I like to call the "DEERSKIN COAT SERIES," taken in 2005:






Cool, right? Rugged as shit. I mean, these shots have it all: my father's old deerskin coat (emblem of a simpler, more uncomplicated time), the slovenly untucked shirt flapping in the wind (apparently the only one I own, judging by the fact it appears in other author photos of me), the mushroom cloud of orange hair blowing along with the shirttails, the generally constipated look on my face—either that or the classic "staring into the distance" shot, where it looks as though I'm contemplating things of great importance or deep gravity, all of critical importance to the human race—although considering this was taken in one of the seedier areas of Toronto, conceivably I was witnessing a distant mugging and debating whether or not to call the authorities.

Mainly, though, this is all about the deerskin, baby! And while I'm not a hunter, nor is my dad, and I'm not really down with that ... I mean, the deer's already dead, dude. Me not wearing this kickass coat is not going to bring the deer back.

MARGE SIMPSON: The gypsy said it would!

ME: She's not the boss of me.

Obscure Simpsons references aside, the deerskin is suh-weeeet. It'll be making a comeback in my wardrobe real soon. In fact, I got back from basketball today and had my girlfriend snap a sweet, Fonzie-ish shot of me in it:


Eeeeeh, sit on it!

Then there's these beauties, shot in France way back when:






Dude, I'm in a glass case of emotion here! Let me out so that I can be a little less angsty!

The one with my hand on the window slays me. I look like a puppy in the pet store window. Will you buy me? Will you take me home? I won't pee on your rugs ... much.

They're all got that "looking someplace into the distant ether" look, too. What's with that? Like, there's never anything of interest DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF MY FACE? Why? That's where the majority of interesting stuff takes place, to be honest. At least my hair is a bit better trimmed. And I'm wearing a different shirt. American Eagle. Pure class, hombre.

There have been other photos, with differing levels of effectiveness—and again, I should state (in case it isn't obvious) that the effectiveness, or more commonly ineffectiveness, of these photos is not a reflection on the photographers themselves. Again, imperfect clay and all that.

An American version of my book used shots from a promotional fight as the author photo. Since I got beaten pretty badly in the fight, it was tough to find shots of me, y'know, landing a punch; mainly it was me getting hit (though looking pretty cut while it was happening, I guess):





In the first photo my lower leg looks dangerously thin, doesn't it? I bad case of Keon Clark leg there, I'm thinking (longtime NBA/ Toronto Raps fans will get that reference).

Anyway, other than that there's the requisite "tough guy" photos, which generally don't work so well because I'm a marshmallow. This one was taken by the wife of my Penguin publicist, who is really good at her job; the rusty tin / soup-bowl haircut motif is really working. I call it: Charlie Brown gets lost in a steel mill.


There's this one (a publisher used the shirtless shot—the one after the fight—the one where I'm not sticking a needle into my ass):


I'd've gone with the ass-needle shot, personally; I like how I'm cradling my 'roids-pendulous belly like I'm pregnant, protecting my sacred womb.

There's this one, which I think was taken to show how thin I was at the time:


It's, y'know, passable. Not horrible. My mom took it. Thanks, Mom!

And then there's the very few that I sort of dig. Like this one, which was taken by a French photographer and was used on my second book there:


I mean, that's okay—right? I don't look like some hideous swamp troll who just got farted up out of the bog, amiright? It's passable. I'm looking somewhat inscrutable, yes? There are secrets lurking behind those eyes, it's reasonably convincing to postulate—possibly ... yeah?

Beyond that, I've got a few that I find enjoyable:

BUS ELVIS, when I drove a bus and dressed up for Halloween (used for a magazine article):


I mean, yeah, okay, it's goofy but then again I'm generally a goof so it's truth in advertizing at least.

Ultimately I think I'd like to go with this one for my new author shot:


Is it a little affected? Maybe. A writer and his son. We were sitting on the couch watching FROM BEYOND, a fine horror flick, and my girlfriend snapped it. I'm shirtless, so that's bound to draw in the lustful female readership—plus I'm looking a bit fatherly, so that dovetails kinda nicely with the subject matter of a lot of my books.

Anyway, I guess I like that it's just natural—nobody was sticking a camera in my face and making me smile one of those cheesy-fake smiles, there was no studio, no lights. So yeah, this one could work. I'd go with it. The deerskin would have accentuated things, sure, but you can't have it all.

Of course my publishers will probably want to stick with the classics, which means the Cataract City author photo may look an awful lot like this bad boy:


Why mess with perfection?

All best, Craig.

4 comments:

  1. Brilliant. Could have laughed harder, but doubtful.

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  2. Oh Craig! I can't wait to share this one! Side splitting. Nix & jay

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  3. I always dug the one of you with rolled up sleeves and tattoo showing. I saw that on the back of Rust & Bone and figured this was a guy who wrote by day and rocked by night. I respected that. In my mind, that's always who you will be.

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  4. The guffaws as I read this post were so loud my husband's attention was drawn in to enjoy reading it as well. Thanks for your books .. so satisfying to have another amazing Canadian artist!

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