Writers: Photographs by Nancy Crampton; introduction by Mark Strand. The Quantuck Lane Press, 2005; $40; 224 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Here are more than a hundred wonderful and sensitive duotone portraits of our major novelists, poets, and playwrights. Paired with the photographs are fascinating texts from each writer on writing -- thoughts on the craft, recollections of significant moments from their personal history, meditations on the civic importance of writing, and so forth. Some of these photographs are well-known -- Bellow, Mailer, Cheever, Wolfe, Singer, and Capote -- and others have never before been published. Many were taken on location, from Tom Stoppard in London and James Baldwin in Provence to Gabriel García Márquez in Mexico City --- one of ten Nobel Prize winners in the book. Closer to home, we have Eudora Welty in Jackson, Nelson Algren in Chicago, Philip Roth and Maurice Sendak in rural Connecticut, Anne Sexton and John Updike near Boston, Walker Percy in Louisiana, Christopher Isherwood in Santa Monica, Annie Proulx in Wyoming, and several writers in the Hamptons.
Whatever the setting, all are strikingly fresh and authentic. The pithy and idiosyncratic thoughts on writing are a perfect complement to the superb portraits; often words and pictures seem to exist in a magical rapport. For all of us who care about the American literary scene, Nancy Crampton's gift is an intimate look at our literary heroes, our Writers . One hundred and four duotone photographs.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Library Journal: Crampton, official photographer for the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, is best known for photographs she's taken of famous writers, which are featured on hundreds of book jackets.... Crampton must have had a warm rapport with these writers to have captured so many in seemingly unguarded poses. Opposite each portrait (all are single with the exception of the lively Studs Terkel's 12-image grid) are eloquent quotes from the writers offering personal recollection or thoughts on their craft.
Los Angeles Times: Crampton works most often with a Leica -- because "it renders light very beautifully, the lenses are wonderful, and I love the feel of it." And she puts great stock in the notion of serendipity.
Publishers Weekly: W.H. Auden, Edwidge Danticat, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Maurice Sendak, Joseph Brodsky, Lorrie Moore, Tom Stoppard, Chinua Achebe, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Franzen, Gayl Jones, Nelson Algren -- the list goes to 104: the number of joyous duotones presented in this collection of exceptionally evocative photos of authors.... Her intimate, New York-centric photos (subjects are placed on streets, in offices, and in apartments rather than in a professional studio) of celebrated writers span more than 30 years.
From Booklist: In his introduction to this outstanding retrospective collection, poet Mark Strand muses over how intently we scrutinize photographs of writers and artists, "as if the face were the door to the darkroom of the imagination." He then praises Crampton for her avoidance of theatricality in her strongly composed, richly detailed, and wonderfully natural black-and-white portraits of writers. The photographs -- each accompanied by a writer's statement, taken in diverse settings, and often featuring cats and cigarettes -- date back to the early 1970s and move into the present.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
On the day that we talked Ms. Crampton was at home in the Greenwich Village apartment from which she has come and gone for several decades. The apartment is in a building where Marianne Moore lived out her last years. Ms. Crampton long ago took my photograph for a book jacket and I had visited the apartment. I recalled the bookshelves, stacked with interesting titles, and a lovely glass-topped coffee table that started life as a jeweler's display case. Ms. Crampton had arranged various treasures beneath the glass. The table she has since given away. I sighed. I hated the thought of the table gone.I remembered Ms. Crampton as gracious, knowledgeable, comforting, and witty. She has not changed.
"Ah," she sighed, "it's nice to have a writer interview you. You understand the problems."
I asked Ms. Crampton the questions I usually ask --- where and when were you born and raised, for instance. She laughed. "The Los Angeles Times interviewed me not long ago and the reporter said, 'Could I ask your age?' I said, 'I prefer not to give my age.' Annie Liebowitz doesn't give her age. And Annie's younger than I am."
Ms. Crampton was born in Philadelphia -- "literally born in Philadelphia, at the hospital there in town. I lived in suburban Philadelphia. That suggests that I had some sort of posh upbringing, which was not exactly the truth, considering that times were a little hard in the beginning. But we always were comfortable. Had a nice house and all that. But it wasn't what you think of as 'Main Line.' It wasn't debutantes and all that sort of thing.
"So I grew up in the suburbs in Philadelphia and went away to college. I went to Vassar [as did her mother and grandmother]. I try not to date my years at Vassar too specifically just because I am still extremely active as a photographer and I guess I will be as long as I have work. I'm not in any position to retire if I wanted to, which I don't want to and so..."
"What was your first camera?"
"A Pentax. I took a trip to East Africa, a safari, and I ordered a camera, which happened to be a Pentax, from Hong Kong because you couldn't order a Nikon from Hong Kong. It was cheaper to order from there, directly. It arrived the day before I left. I went off with this camera. That trip converted me into a photographer. It felt right to me --photography.
"This was 1967 and I'd been some years out of college and working in book publishing. I right away came back and in the American fashion, it wasn't too long before I hung out my shingle that said 'Photographer.'