Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vanity, Vanity

I am so not photogenic. In fact, quite the opposite. If someone brings out a camera anywhere near me, I cringe and can't stop myself from pulling my famous photo-face (think pained, slightly constipated half-smile--if you're lucky you'll catch my eye twitching). Don't know what made me that way, but I'm blaming the "scared of pictures" gene on my dad. Handsome man, for sure, but even more petrified of cameras than me. And that's saying something.

Anyway, I've been in an ongoing conversation for the last few months with a couple of author friends about many different aspects of publishing. A hot topic we keep coming back to is why people buy (or don't buy) books. What sells? Cover? Title? Name power? Topic? Writing? One of these lovely ladies noted that her publicist has chosen a particular image for her, a hook that will hopefully brand her and help sell her books. Hmmm, me thinks. Do I have an image? Do I want one?

If I did have an image, I suppose it would be the harried, newish mom. At least, that's me at my most raw. Or maybe I could be branded as a philanthropist, a passionate young woman co-heading a growing non-profit. The small town girl next door? The got-it-all-together pastor's wife? The truth is, I'm all of those things. And none of them. Funny how that works.

An image, at it's most literal, is exactly that: a picture, a representation. I've been noticing lately the amazing photos that most authors have gracing their websites and the backs of their books. Check out my friend Lisa McKay's site (she's so pretty!), or Tosca Lee (granted, she is a professional model so the gorgeous part is a given), or even Travis Thrasher (love the different looks he can pull off). Have you ever read a Brandilynn Collins book? I haven't, but I'd know her picture anywhere--her over-the-shoulder, wide-eyed gaze is a brand in and of itself. And the truth is, there is something really cool about all of their pictures, beyond the obvious aesthetic appeal: when I look at a well done portrait, I feel like I know the subject. Cliched as it sounds, a little piece of that person is preserved in an artful rendering.

So all of this begs the question: Am I, photo-phobic that I am, capable of taking a truly revealing shot? Get your mind out of the gutter, I don't mean revealing that way. :) I mean, could someone photograph me in such a way that a person picking up one of my books, or finding my site on the web, could feel an instant connection with me? A sense of commonality? A feeling of, I want to know what she has to say? Because I can relate to her, or she intrigues me, or I like the spark in her eye... whatever. Fill in the blank.

Welcome to my personal experiment.

I have a very dear friend who happens to be one of the most talented photographers I've ever met. Amazingly enough, so far she only takes pictures of her kids. But the images she has gracing the walls in her home rival that of any professional studio. Since she's interested in seeing where the Lord is leading in this area of her life, I put myself in her very capable hands for a morning of fieldwork. We packed the kids in her mini-van, put on a video, pacified them with snacks, and then drove around our community and shot a ba-jillion photos. When the rugrats got sick of that, we drove through McDonalds and went home. Then she proceeded to do my make-up, hang a black sheet over her banister, and snap at least a ka-trillion more photos with five children screaming in the background. She should be sainted. Not only for putting up with all those kids, but also for being patient with me. A typical conversation:

"Smile, Nik."
"I can't."
"Come on..."
*Sickly half-smile*
"A real smile."
"That was a real smile!"
"Uh, okay then, give me a fake one."

I know, I'm pathetic. But my friend, like I said, is very talented. She managed to capture some pretty cool photos. Unedited, shot on my camera, and downloaded for your perusal. What do you think? Do you feel like any of these portraits capture a bit of who I am? Does it matter what an author looks like? Or, more accurately, what their author photo looks like? More to the point: Is it all just vanity? A selfish preening in the hope that someone will find us interesting, attractive, compelling, handsome...? Or do we all long in some way for people to see us as we truly are? Oooo, now we're getting deep. Are my musings going overboard? Do I sound too much like Carrie Bradshaw? Will this post ever end??? :)


  1. i like seeing an author's photo on their book. i'm not sure why other than it gives the reader an idea of who you are.
    these are all great photos, but i like the 2nd and the last photos best. it looks like you opened up a bit more and relaxed in those. you shouldn't be afraid of the camera. you are photogenic.

  2. Thanks, Amy. I did manage to open up in a few, but only because nobody makes me laugh more than Lisa (the photographer). I'm actually doubled over in a couple shots, but I didn't include those. ;)

    Blessings to you in the New Year!

  3. personally, i think you are very photogenic! my favorite is the second one, but i also like the very last one if you are looking for one to put on your books.
    i am almost always surprised when i see author's photos on the back of their books. i think its because i read a book, have the main character in my head, and then see the author...who is obviously not the character. but then at the same time, I have read a ton of angela hunt or lisa samson books, and yet i was surprised when i saw their photos (and i didn't have a specific character in mind). i don't know if it is vanity, but i enjoy seeing author's photos! and happy new year :)

  4. Hi you! Just checking out your blog. Loving reading it as usual. And that's true even when you don't mention me :). Mike and I vote for number 5. Hugs, Lis