Before I ever needed an author photo, I thought that if the day came that circumstances demanded one, I would use the drawing my daughter did of me when she was in third grade. The likeness was undeniable, the colors vivid, and the vibe cool. Those blue glasses were seriously daring, and not all reflective of my tendency toward the conventional. She made me look fun and fashionable. Using this drawing would eliminate the need to get in front of a camera and relive the nightmares of school picture days.
But for my first book, which came out in 2011, I figured the crayon drawing probably wasn’t going to suffice. On the recommendation of a friend, I hired Meryl Schenker. She’s nice and funny and knows her stuff. And she’s patient with people whose picture day memories produce self-conscious, counterfeit smiles.
I really liked the photo that resulted from that shoot in Meryl’s living room. I was younger then, my skin more taut, the gray in my hair barely noticeable. I still haven’t updated it on my Twitter profile, though that’s been due more to laziness than any attempt to deliberately mislead the world about what I look like now.
It was during this shoot, that I discovered my good side. Almost everything taken from my left side I liked or, at least, not hated. Everything taking from my right side I definitely hated. One of my sisters has the same good side. When taking family photos, we jockey for position.
When my second book was about to come out five years later in 2016, I needed an updated author photo, so I hired Meryl again. We did the shoot in her studio this time. Again, she was patient with my lack of imagination in front of a camera, coaxing me to move this way and that. I came away with several photos I liked, all of my good side but shot at different angles for at least the suggestion of variety. These, like my previous author photo, featured me in dark clothing against dark backgrounds, which was more happenstance than strategic. An unintentional outcome was the obscuring of the ever increasing graying of my hair.
Now I have another book coming in 2020. (Thank you, Jaded Ibis Press.) I contacted Meryl again. She suggested we do outdoor shots this time, and I proposed the rooftop of my apartment building, though I was concerned about getting squinty-eyed in the sunlight. I suppose I should’ve also given a thought to what to wear.
When Meryl came over, I still had on the dark pink tank top I’d worn to the gym that morning.
Meryl eyed me. “Is that what you’re going to wear for the photo?”
I assured her it was not. I showed her my minimalist closet and picked out a few possibilities.
Meryl said that since the last two author photos had been dark, she wanted to try something more colorful.
I wear mostly cool and neutral colors, I told her. “Except for this,” I said, pointing to the pink tank top I had on.
“It’s dirty,” Meryl said.
Right. I’d been wearing it for a few days. In my retirement, I see very little need to change my clothes during the week.
“You, know,” she said, “most people preparing for a photo shoot go clothes shopping.”
“Yeah. I hate shopping,” I said.
Then I remembered the blue sleeveless dress I had picked up at Target a few months ago. I was killing time, roaming the aisles, while my younger daughter, home for a month from her life in Ecuador, was shopping for supplies. I showed the dress to Meryl.
“The problem,” I said, “is that it’s blue and I have blue glasses now.” After decades of brown or black eyeglass frames, I had recently, in a mutiny against my characteristic restraint, opted for colorful look-at-me frames.
“Not a problem,” Meryl said.
Okay, I shrugged.
“Now, what do you want to convey in the photo? How do you want to be seen?”
“And, um, smart?”
“Hmm. That’s a little harder.”
“Okay, just friendly then.”
I wondered if my asking to convey “smart” in the photo was akin to the composer Eric Satie noting that his compositions should be played “peacefully” or “grandiosely” or “learnedly” (nifty information from Caitlin Horrocks’s excellent debut novel The Vexations).
I still was not an ideal subject, ever self-conscious about how to stand or where to look or how much to smile. While the results showed plenty of forced smiles, there were enough unforced ones to choose from the array of my blue-themed photos.
I think I do look friendly. I might still be a little squinty-eyed, but I like the outdoor light on my now visibly graying hair. And my blue glasses are exactly like the ones my prescient, third-grade daughter drew on me all those years ago.