Allen Ginsberg As Photographer

The late U.S. poet Allen Ginsberg also took photographs.

Essentially snapshots, taken, as most of us do, while hanging out with family and friends these images form a visual archive of Ginsberg’s literary acquaintances including most of the other major writers of the Beat era including Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and William S. Burroughs.

When Ginsberg began having these images enlarged from their negatives he started to add captions, written in longhand on the white space left at the bottom of the photograph. These captions add information, dates, locations, names and events, to our understanding of the photos. Somehow the idea of a poet adding text to photographs of writers seems so very appropriate

Chronicle Books published a collection of these images in 1993 entitled Snapshot Poetics.

If you like the idea of photographers combining text with their images, especially images of writers have a look through Elsa Dorfman’s site and click on the Housebook link which is sort of at your lower left on the transit map inspired guide to her site.

Anonymous Bookshelf

Why Anonymous Bookshelf?

Anonymous Bookshelf will be an now and then feature that caters to the need in all those who enjoy books to check out other readers’ bookshelves. Whether it is snobbery (Look at those books!) or jealousy (Look at those books!) we all want to have, at the very least, a quick peek.


Who Needs Book Reviews

The Guardian’s Alastair Harper on why he’d rather read restaurant reviews than book reviews.


Abanaki Press’ 1946 edition The Order of Good Cheer

A look at Andrew Merkel’s ‘The Order of Good Cheer’ published by The Abanaki Press in 1946.


Advance Copies

Publishers and writers always hope for reviews of their books to appear just as books are released into the bookstores.

In order to make certain that book critics and reviewers have time to read and evaluate the volumes advance copies are often sent off to various media outlets.

The odd thing about these copies is that they usually carry a disclaimer that reads like this:

‘Uncorrected proof; not for sale. Substantial changes may be made before the book is printed. If material is to be quoted in a review, please check against the final published book or contact (insert name of press here) for verification.’

These advance copies range from printed sheets ring bound with a printed light cardboard covers to close facsimiles of the final product.

I  wonder if these advance copies which may see ‘substantial changes’ before publication are a reason that writers wonder if the reviewer read their book.

Maybe they didn’t.

We had a chance to read an advance copy of Bill Gaston’s ‘The Order Of Good Cheer’ published by the House Of Anansi Press.

Whether or not any changes occur, the version we read was excellent. The book is really two stories, one set in 1607 on the East Coast of what would become Canada and the other set now on the West Coast. The element that links the two are Champlain’s feast nights from which the book’s title is taken. How can you not enjoy a book that celebrates moose nose as a dinner dish.

In the odd way that one book leads to another I found a copy of this narrative poem The Order of Good Cheer by Andrew Merkel published in 1946 by the Abanaki Press in Lower Granville, Nova Scotia. A beautiful little book with illustrations by Robert Chambers. I see www.davidevesbooks.comAdvance copy of The Order Of Good Cheer has a copy listed for $17.

For those of you (and until now myself) who have no idea who Andrew Merkel was, this from the Dalhousie University archives. Merkel, born in New York in the mid 18880’s, came to Nova Scotia as a boy, became a journalist, historian and poet.

Anonymous Bookshelf Uncategorized

Anonymous Bookshelf #1



Photographing writers is not new. Many other photographers have specialized in images of authors.

Two photographers who introduced me to the idea of photographing writers were John Reeves and Sam Tata.

Reeves, a Toronto photographer who works with a large format camera, is known for his images of people connected with the arts, including writers. He shoots tightly cropped images of faces. His book About Face was published by Exile Editions.

The late Sam Tata, a contemporary and friend of the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, published several books showcasing his images of writers. Tata immigrated to Canada in the fifties and lived in Montreal working mainly for magazines.

Every artist tries to be original in his or her work. Reeves, through use of a different camera format and a studio setting, creates images that look far different from mine.

Tata, however, worked with 35mm and shot in available locations so I probably feel more of an affinity with him

I did not meet Sam Tata until very near the end of his life. He was suffering the effects of several strokes and a normal question and answer conversation was not possible. However when we looked through his scrapbooks, the memories took over and anecdotes about the images and people came out.

Currently the biggest name in writer photographs is the American Marion Ettlinger. Her stylized black and white portraits grace many book covers. A collection of her images was published as ‘Author Photo’.

Two British photographers, who worked for London newspapers, Sally Soames (The Times) and Jane Bown (The Guardian) are also noted for their pictures of writers. Soames has a collection of her photos out titled simply ‘Writers” and Bown has had a number of books out that include her writer portraits.

Finally, the grand dame of writer portraiture is New Yorker Jill Krementz, a photographer who loved the subject so much she married one her subjects, the late Kurt Vonnegut.


As Good As Any Place To Begin

A is for Atwood, which is as good as any place to begin.

That’s her photograph at the top of this page. The other portraits are Peter Oliva (at left) and Wayson Choy.

I make a living as a photographer but am fascinated by the world of writing. All writing and all aspects although I probably read more non-fiction. A life in journalism may have something to do with that. I do read almost everything though, low brow or high brow, poetry and the sports pages, thrillers and essays, novels and memoirs.

Reading one text usually leads to several more. This morning, re-reading the late Matt Cohen’s memoir Typing, A Life In 26 Keys. a book I was reminded of while reading a story in an issue of Quill and Quire that mentioned publisher Patsy Aldana, Cohen’s wife. Cohen writes about interviewing Hugh Garner and I remember that I still haven’t read Garner’s classic Cabbagetown. Cohen talks about Morley Callaghan and, among other things, his famous connection to Ernest Hemingway. That reminds me that while I have my copies of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Callaghan’s That Summer in Paris, the book I regard as the third in the Paris trilogy John Glassco’s Memoirs of Montparnasse has gone missing from the bookshelves. From there I start wondering why Morley’s son Barry Callaghan has written about his house being burgled in both his essay collections and in his short story collections.

Maybe I just have problems staying on topic.

My interest in literature and authors led to a project photographing writers. Two books, each showcasing fifty writers, have been published by the Banff Centre Press. I also photograph books and anything connected with writing.

I enjoy photographing writers because while they are not without egos, they are not like many people connected to other arts such as TV and movies. They willingly agree to meet and be photographed even when they are ‘stars’. Margaret Atwood made time during a busy book tour to be photographed. The late Timothy Findley, photographed after a lunch that was a performance in itself, sent a note thanking the photographer for taking the time to take the images. That has never happened with a movie actor.

Photographing writers gives me an insight into the writing process, something that fascinates me.

I continue to photograph in the world of literature, maintaining a hope that the images will draw more people to the world of books. I hope this site will serve as a magazine of writing and writers, showcasing the best in photography and words.