Tuesday, April 7, 2009

book week: to ettlingerize




Bookslut just posted today:

"I never understood why so many writers use Marion Ettinger [sic] for their author photo, since they all end up looking like those 19th century corpse photos. All of em."

thoughts, readers?  chime in in the comments.

personally, i have a bit of a soft spot for Marion Ettlinger precisely because her style is so stubborn, iconic, and recognizable.  high-contrast, pretentiously serious, black and white portraiture is not exactly a rare or unique style in the history of photography.  and yet her photographs can be spotted on site, from 20 paces across the Barnes & Noble.  whether you like her look--ye olde dodge and burn--or not, you have to admit she's made the most of it. 

there seems to be an uptick of discussion of her online lately, in the blogs, and in the news.  

for more, here is a comprehensive 2004 New York Times piece on the "Age of Ettlinger:"
"If you didn't know any better, you would think that Ettlinger's pictures were deliberate antitheses to earlier book-jacket photographs, something like the 19th-century French realists reacting to their romantic predecessors--only in reverse."

(and, more provocatively: 
"A portrait's function is to have no function except the representation of the subject.")

here, too, are Alec Soth's thoughts on Ettlinger and author photos, from his old blog:
"Ettllinger [sic] is a good photographer. But there is something off-putting about her relentless effort to make authors look like, well, Authors."

finally, i also think that Conscientious' recent comments on schtick have something to bear here as well:
"A well known photographer once told me that an extremely well known and influential gallerist had told him that the road to success was to find one's niche and then to simply produce work that way (think babies in "cute" dresses or Weimaraners or overly Photoshoped celebrities or whatever else you can think of). I suppose that works nicely if seen with the eyes of someone who knows how to sell work--after all, what appeals to people (and thus sells nicely) today should do so tomorrow, right?

But as someone interested in art as somebody's personal expression, it strikes me as listening to music where the record is stuck on the player..." 


so, my answer to Bookslut?  i agree with Soth's sentiment.  writers (or their publishers) choose Marion Ettlinger for their photographs because they want to look not like writers, or even authors, but Authors.  an imprimatur is a rather powerful thing.

your comments?


p.s. authors clockwise from top left: Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, David Foster Wallace.

11 comments:

alkos said...

Interesting: a term coined after another photographer's style - Andrzej Dragan / to draganize - has been implemented even further as a software action. It seems bit sad when a quite original style - taking no account of its artistic value - is "killed by dispersion"...

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Isaac Yassar said...

19th century corpse? Nice LOL

Montag said...

The Author is an iconic image. I can see why a writer and publisher would like to be so portrayed.

However, it all reminds me of my childhood when I used to gaze at sci-fi books: the cover image was a more intense experience than the writing inside.
That might be dangerous.

Chef E said...

Looks like a few dishes I have photographed lately too...tried to make it look 'vintage' and it looked like recycled rubbish :)

Pragmatic Spector said...

I sort of disagree and agree. I don't think authors choose ettlinger to look like authors. Rather, they want to appear significant. The pretentiously serious demeanor about the photos you displayed show writers who see veneration in themselves, or maybe this is just something I see and no one else. Also, the black and white is a classic technique/style (I'm not a photographer so forgive me I don't know how to classify it) seems to sequester the environment and overall beauty of the photographs to bring out the individual.

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whatsay said...

David Foster Wallace recently committed suicide. Life=art, particularly with portrait photography. It's hard to think past the loss; it's harder to imagine that Ettlinger and her publishers are just "imprimaturs." That's a bit too much like Hamas printing graphic portrait posters of their heroic "martyrs."

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest, Ettlinger's portraits almost make me physically ill. They're so unnatural, and I I hate when authors don't smile. Even if the book itself is sad, they should still smile, they've been published!

If I ever get a book contract (yeah right) my first thought would be, please, no Ettlinger!