Monday April 13th, 2009

Say Cheesy

A piece on NPR about author photos — which doesn’t add much to the conversation and, fair warning, crashed my browser the first time I tried to play it — did get me thinking about the art. Marion Ettlinger is perhaps the only photographer truly famous for capturing authors, and her work inspires revulsion as often as respect. She has a distinct style, to be sure, and I like many of her portraits (like this one of Raymond Carver, for which she also has a soft spot).

But Ettlinger can be oddly dependent on props, like this shot of Jonathan Franzen, who looks like he’s just one element in a design exhibit at MoMA. Other times, she makes serious writers look like they’re sending out head shots to community theaters, as in this pic of John Irving.

Of course, these are subtle sins compared to the distinctly Ettlingerian categories that I like to call Too Much and Way Too Much.

Which isn’t to say that you need Ettlinger behind the lens to make strange self-presentation decisions. Just ask Tim Dorsey.