Recently I had to have some fancy photos taken for promotional purposes and it made me start to think – does how a writer look really matter? In ye olden days, none of this would have mattered so much, a photograph or a portrait, something made for loved ones, someone from the inner circle – not for wider public consumption. But ye olden days is gone. And not all of us can make ourselves as glamorous as Susan Sontag:
Of course I tied to make myself look my best – I washed my hair even and bought some blush and tried to avoid placing my hand under my chin in that weird pose that writers tend to pull, as if holding up the weight of all those fabulous ideas in ones head. At least an actor can project a role or a tradesman rely on their tools as props, but to photograph a writer writing is somehow more ephemeral – because a lot of writing takes place off the page. For me a lot of it happens between the gaps of normal day life – pushing the pram, having a shower, sitting on a train. The unconscious prepares and the hand just follows.
But still I am not immune to the power of the image, having postcards of writers propped against my desk throughout my life, talismans of a sort, hoping to imbibe a little sparkle into my own work from their gaze.
One of my favourite writer images is this one, of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her son, Pen. Her with her possessive and proud face, his fey golden curls and far away expression – the way they are holding hands. A great portrait I think, not just of a writer, but a mother and woman ahead of her time. I always feel she is looking at me. Is she looking at me? And what are those eyes saying? So many things?
Do any of you have a writer’s portrait propped against your desk that talks to you ( metaphorically or literally, I am all ears) ? Is it a curious Edith Sitwell with her wonderful nose and bangles or a dreamy D H Lawrence? Whoever it is, please share.
photo credit : Susan Sontag by Jill Krementz