Photographing a model who is both beautiful and comfortable before a camera is one thing. But how do you capture the intellect of a writer? Marion Ettlinger may not have an answer or a formula, but she still knows how to do it. She's worked with Truman Capote, Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, David Foster Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, Alice Munro... the list goes on. And despite the fact that these authors are not quite as comfortable as models, Ettlinger has done it with apparent ease.
Jhumpa Lahiri, New York City, 2003
Stanislao G. Pugliese, New York City, 2008
Scott Snyder, Coney Island, N.Y., 2007
Tayari Jones, New York City, 2006
Samantha Hunt, Pound Ridge, N.Y., 2006
Rigoberto Gonzalez, New York City, 2009
Sarah Manguso, New York City, 2004
Binnie Kirshenbaum, New York City, 2006
Monique Truong, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2006
Nikolai Grozni, New York City, 2008
Major Jackson, New York City, 2004
Kathryn Maris, New York City, 2009
Olympia Vernon, Hammond, La., 2005
Tobias Wolff, New York City, 2007
Mark Z. Danielewski, Los Angeles, 2003
Sigrid Nunez, New York City, 2008
J.R. Moehringer, New York City, 2005
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"How do you photograph that invisible thing?" Ettlinger mused aloud in an interview. That "thing" she's referring to is the elusive gift that produces good literature. Fascinated by questions like these, and by the contrast between a person's interior and exterior, she has been drawn to portraits since her early days. She took to sketching strangers at a young age, and translated those observational skills into photography while at art school.
Ettlinger's deference for her subjects shows in both her insightful images and her reluctance to talk too much about the authors. She did, however, share with Fresh Air's Terry Gross one particularly interesting story about photographing an intractable Truman Capote. Ettlinger doubts she'd make a good street photographer because she would "probably always miss the decisive moment," as she put it. But there are decisive moments in private, consensual settings as well — and those, it's safe to say, she never misses. For that reason, she has become the nation's industry expert in author portraiture.
If you check out her Web site, you'll most likely see many of your favorite authors. Or just pull a book from a shelf and you might see her work on the jacket. Some of Ettlinger's most recent photographs can be viewed in the gallery above.