Author photos. Tiresome things. I've been thinking about them off and on for a while and then a couple of other posts and articles mentioned them (there was Fiendish being a model, Claire Askew on photos over at One Night Stanzas) and I thought maybe it's time for this subject now after all. There are more important subjects I could be thinking about...financial meltdown, the cruelty of some human beings, why the moon makes the sea look so inviting...but away with those for now...right now it's photos, images, what we look like, how we present ourselves to the world. Mostly (she says, trying not to sound like she's auditioning for 'Grumpy Old Women') what I think is this - if there's one job where people don't really need to see what you look like it's writing, isn't it? Why do we have to have author photos at all? I know...I know...marketing, blah, sales, blah, profile, blah, natural audience nosiness/curiosity...etc. etc. etc. I'm not naïve about this stuff...I'm just fatigued, frustrated, disappointed.
I've been wondering why I feel this way (and it is, of course, just a personal feeling...I won't be passing any laws or anything) and here are a few of the answers I've come up with. Some of these answers may contain more questions than actual answers. Sorry about that.
My first point would be – well, have you ever seen a good author photo? One that isn't clichéd (author surrounded by home library of interesting tomes, perchance, or author in gritty urban landscape looking confused by life's contradictions...)? Or have you seen many that are not one of the following - dull, very uncomfortable-looking or just ridiculously posed? (OK...there probably are a few exceptions...there was a lovely old black and white of Susan Sontag in the paper this weekend for a start...).
But back to fatigue! My second point is that, on a personal level, I have kind of been through all this before (when I was younger and more obviously photogenic). I did the whole what shall I wear, how will I come across, what kind of look am I aiming for when I was a DJ in the 1990s because my partner in vinyl and I got promotional photos done – four times in total. That may seem a bit excessive...but mostly the photographers were friends or friends of friends....and really it was my partner who made all the clothes/looks decisions (she had been to art school, knew something about visuals and fashion...neither of these big subjects with me). We got photos done because we had interviews in magazines, had to pick our favourite records, stuff like that and we needed photos to go with the articles. Here are a few samples of our old press shots. Most of these are from the mid 1990s when I was somewhere between 20 and 30 years of age. And, of course, it's funny...at the time I was never happy with how I looked (we were never the girl DJs known for our looks...some of the others around were real blonde glamour girls, one looked like Pamela Anderson...) but now I look at the photos and think 'bloody hell, we didn't look half bad! I wouldn't mind looking like that again now...' (Women, I ask you, never happy...but more of that later...).
'Daisy & Havoc' by Alexis Hutson. I'm on the right.
'Daisy & Havoc' by Casey Orr. Just to be different I'm on the left this time.
One of the photos from this shoot was in a book by Casey Orr called 'Portraits of Anarchists' but Daisy must have been the anarchist because I don't remember ever being one...not on purpose anyway. Still, a lot happened in the DJ years that I don't remember so who knows!
'Daisy & Havoc' by Jan Wells (I think). Flower power years, obviously. By now you can probably tell which one is me.
Anyway, having done the whole press photo thing to death already I suppose a big part of me doesn't want to get involved in all that again. I just want to do the writing, not the posing this time please (and in fact I never really felt very comfortable doing the posing last time in all honesty). That's why even though now and again I need a good up-to-date photo for a festival brochure or something I still keep using the same one that's on the side of this blog. Someone took it at the folk club a couple of years ago and I didn't know anything about it until he handed a print to me ages afterwards. I'm wearing possibly the least fashionable t-shirt you'll find anywhere on the internet but I don't care (there are women left alive who don't watch 'Sex and the bloody City', you know and look – here's visual proof!). I'm not sure how long I can keep using this photo though because if I use it for too long I will end up being one of those women whose photo is ten years old ('she's much older than that you know'). I can see how that happens now...it isn't that 'those women' are pretending to look young – they just don't want any new photos taken!
And this brings me to my next point - the whole business of looking at women (very, very complicated subject this one...I'm going to tackle it anyway though). Does anyone really care what a male writer looks like? If he's ugly but the book's good then he's interesting, right? Doesn't quite work like that with women though does it...not completely? Isn't there still a huge tendency for both men and women to judge women unfairly by their looks (plain/ugly woman = look away now)? And if you're a woman writer who is not particularly attractive to look at then isn't it likely your picture won't get used so much in the press (hear the editor's inner voice...'dull, dull, dull...'). And then, on the other hand, if you are a woman writer who IS attractive to look at you can't win either...editors may well use your photo so much that other writers/reviewers (and eventually the public) will bitch that you only get so much publicity because of your looks and that 'really you're not that talented'. How often do you hear/read this phrase (one that really bugs me) – 'she's a great writer/singer/artist and beautiful too'...as in what a bonus...as in eye candy...as in 'let's make it a double page spread for the interview then'. Ask yourself how many times you see photos of women writers and how often those are the more conventionally attractive ones (Plath, Candia McWilliam, Plum Sykes...I haven't read books by the last two but I know I've seen their photos regularly in the press). Pretty females sell papers...that's how editors think (even if some of them don't admit this to themselves...and I'm not for a moment saying that all those editors are men). It's no wonder some women writers keep very low profiles...who wants to get caught up in all the judgement upon women's looks business that goes on in the press on a daily basis. Have you stood in a newsagent's lately and looked at the covers of all the papers and magazines? Have you seen how many STUPID TV shows there are about women and their looks ('10 Years Younger', 'How to look good naked', Trinny and...ugh..I can't even type their heinous names...). If there is a hell (and it really is a horrible environment...as opposed to just somewhere a bit warm and naughty) then the producers and presenters of those shows should have their places at the top of the guest list. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID. Has so much comment ever been made about the body shape and look of so many women (and as I say – men and women equally guilty of continuing it all)?
Maybe you'll disagree with all that last paragraph. I wish I did. I like the idea of feminism becoming redundant...I don't see that though. I just see it getting more complicated.
Perhaps because of this my last area to discuss right now is the business of women's self-image (and this is related to the last point of course). Sometimes I am surprised...shocked even...by how many very intelligent women are unhappy with their own looks (to the point of silliness...and writers are not immune). A male writer may see a photo of themselves looking plump, feel a little regret that the photo looks less like a Greek god than they had hoped...and then just get on with their work. For too many women though it is not this simple. The sight of the plump photo will be followed by self-loathing, self-doubt, maybe even tears...and then, quite possibly, a bout of energetic eating of high calorie foodstuffs. Not all women behave this way...but far too many do. What a waste of time, isn't it? Now in my 40s I'm starting to see photos of myself that are certainly not the image I have of myself...so I start to wonder...will I enter into this ridiculous cycle of bother about photos? Is this one reason the whole subject makes me cringe? I really hope not. I have so many other things I could be doing...
And then this makes me think – maybe I should preempt this dreaded phase by going the other way and getting new photos done on purpose... really unflattering ones, with no soft focus and no sexy faces pulled and no trying to be fancied by anyone ever! Maybe I should eat a plate of doughnuts before they're taken and have as many spare tyres as I can possibly manage. Maybe I should hold my head low to see maximum double chin (not the usual...chin up for the photo shots)...I could wear old maternity clothes...I could not wash my hair for a month! Just using photos like that would be a political act in itself then wouldn't it? Like the Gossip's Beth Ditto parading her large self in lycra for all the world to see...it could be worth doing...couldn't it? Am I woman enough to try it? Oh heck, I'm not sure...
Failing that I suppose there's always this old snap...
Havoc (in hell) by Daisy (maybe).
Let me explain - the promoter of the club we worked in in Leeds was putting on an 'alternative' fashion show in a trendy gay club in Manchester (mid '90s) and I was one of the lucky models (fashion shows are not usually part of my world – it was a once in a lifetime experience). And yes, those are tampons in my hair (clean ones, I should point out). My outfit (not pictured and most definitely NOT model's own) was a mini-dress designed to look like a sanitary towel...and no, I'm not kidding...wish I was. Luckily this is the only photo of this event that I am aware of. So do you dare me to send it off the 'Scottish Review of Books' or 'Poetry Review' (not that either are begging me for photos but you know what I mean)? Do you think it would help my career in serious poetry? (Now I am kidding, I am! I am!).
Your comments, as ever, awaited with interest...your photos too if you're that way inclined (with or without doughnuts).
2 hours ago