"I was fortunate. When I got back from that safari, a friend said, 'You should see this agency that handles the TWA account.' TWA flew to East Africa. They immediately bought the use of two or three of my pictures. I realized I could make money doing this. I was living in an apartment that rented for $150. So I didn't have a huge overhead.
"I learned darkroom work. There was no International Center of Photography or anything like that in those days. I found somebody who knew somebody who was a photographer from whom I learned darkroom work.
"It took me a year to locate it, but there was an organization called The Village Camera Club here in the Village. A number of professional photographers had come out of that. When I discovered them, I went and there were a half a dozen people there and they had nobody to do programming for them. So I did that for four years, inviting everybody you can imagine, to come. We met once a week.
"I started photographing neighborhoods in New York City, specifically kids in those neighborhoods. East Harlem, the Lower East Side. These were the days before crack cocaine, so it was perfectly safe.
"I started getting assignments. There was a magazine called America . America sent me to photograph Italians in New York -- at Coney Island and neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
"I fell into working for the foreign press. Then a friend said, 'You should meet Ben Bradlee from the Washington Post .' I did and I worked with reporters from the Style section of the Post who came up to New York. I was a stringer for The Washington Post and the foreign press.
"Sometimes they would be interviewing a writer and the writer would want to use the photo for her English jacket, let's say. At the time I was also photographing artists, because there were wonderful artists around. They were accessible in those days -- Calder, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns. Those photos of artists are used now even to open museum exhibits and stuff, but at the time I didn't know what to do with them. Except to exhibit them. I actually started exhibiting right away, in '71 or '72.
"These things happen by chance. There was an exhibit at The Museum of Contemporary Crafts of contemporary photography. I met a curator who invited me to exhibit. I was in various exhibits. It sort of follows from there."
"Did The Family of Man [organized by Edward Steichen and first shown in 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art] increase interest in photography?"
"Yes. Of course, there was Steichen. That exhibit had wide appeal. It's true. It called attention to photography. But when I got into photography, photojournalism in America was suffering already. I didn't start photographing writers until 1972. Life magazine and Look were folding. The advertising money was going to TV, so general interest magazines were suffering. I didn't know the difference because I'd never been relying on these magazines to publish my work. I was discovering what I wanted to do with photography, and that which I wanted to pursue, was pursuing."
"Were you still using your Pentax?"
"No. I bought a secondhand Leica. I use it to this day. My favorite camera is actually a Ryka that hasn't been manufactured since 1964. You click quietly because there's no flipping over the way there is, say, with the usual Nikon."
"What makes a Hasselblad so wonderful?"
"It's a different format. I love the 35mm format, at least most of the time. I can still take a horizontal picture, if I want to make it more like a landscape and include more of the setting. At some point I've done a project where I will need at least a medium format camera. I have one, but I don't use it much. But that's not true of the work that I'm doing now.
"I can enlarge these pictures that I take with my Ryka to 20-by-24. Or 20-by-30, that's no problem. If the picture is sharp to begin with, which usually they are. The exhibit I have in L.A. is 11-by-14 stuff -- standard photo paper size. That's a very nice size for looking at in the intimate situation of a gallery. You're going right up the photo."
"Nowadays, when you take pictures of authors, do the publishing houses call you or does the author call you?"
"Oh, it happens every which way. John Cheever used to call me up when he finished a book. He obviously enjoyed the ritual. I photographed him once, for Time in 1973.
"Phillip Roth regularly uses me. These arrangements are somewhat exceptional. Sometimes it's the publisher, the publicity person or the editor. More often probably the editor suggests me to an author. Authors mostly have friends who are writers and they get to you that way. Or who knows? Really, it seems to happen every which way. I'm not too good about showing my work around."
We talked, then, about the book. "There are 104 pictures in the book, which is all we could squeeze into the number of signatures that we used.
"You've got the text too. That was interesting. Forty-four of the pieces of text are taken from interviews in the Paris Review 's Writers At Work interviews. The other 60 are taken from prefaces, lectures, essays, other interviews."
Often, Ms. Crampton, when taking photographs, suggests an author stand in front of a door. She recommended that I do so. I asked, "Why do you use doors so often?"
"Well, that's a good question. If you're using available light, sometimes the door provides you with a bit of a frame. Also, there's something evocative. I like to get dimension into a photograph. There's a suggestion, something evocative about a door. Or, a window.
"Also, you are on the street, looking for a background. I remember the doors in the photo of Tom Wolfe [Page 62 in Ms. Crampton's book], which was actually the door next door to Tom's then-townhouse."