NPR logo Photographing The Brains Behind The Book

Daily Picture Show

Photographing The Brains Behind The Book

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.

1 of 17

View slideshow i

"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.

Have an idea? Pitch it! | The Picture Show on Facebook or on Twitter

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.