The stories behind the author portraits of Marion Ettlinger

Ettlinger has collected enough great stories on a mission to fill his own book. When she arrived at Truman Capote’s in Sagaponack, she was met by a man fleeing the other way down the driveway, who rolled down his car window and simply said, “Good luck.” In the resulting photograph, taken early in Ettlinger’s career but late in Capote’s (he would die two years later of drug-related liver disease), the author, captured from profile, looks like Marlon Brando as the mad Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now.” .” While photographing Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, Ettlinger recalled a short story she admired:Heaven”, and was treated to O’Brien’s sonic recitation – entirely from memory – of the opening pages. Patrica Highsmith kindly demonstrated in her session a foolproof method for removing drink rings from wooden table tops: spit on them, rub with your cigarette ash, and let sit for a few days. (“I thought, maybe it only works with Patricia Highsmith’s saliva — maybe it’s not a cure-all,” Ettlinger told me.) At David Foster Wallace in the Indiana, she was nearly mauled by a farm dog while trying to brood. portrait of the author in a nearby field. “David said, ‘Do you know what you can do if you’re ever attacked by a dog? Break his back leg,” Ettlinger said, adding, “So I said, ‘OK, I’ll keep that in mind.’ And then we continued to work.

David Foster Wallace.

Another big one was a visit with psychedelic impresario Ken Kesey, at his farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, during his Squire-funded tour. Kesey was initially rather prickly, Ettlinger recalls, as if thinking, oh, here come the chic New Yorkers. There was work to be done around the farm, and Kesey no longer needed an audience with the ‘god of fame’. So Ettlinger, who had lived in Vermont after college and knew a farm well, volunteered to help. She and Kesey eventually reunited at her barn, where (after Kesey cast the I Ching) she took her fabulous portrait, featuring Kesey with a hammer in her hand and her parrot perched on her lap. Afterwards, she recalls: “We went home with his wife and he made burgers. And I washed the dishes. And so everything went well. A few years later, Ettlinger received a letter from Kesey informing him that his parrot had died, with one of the bird’s feathers attached. “I think he thought I wasn’t that bad,” she told me.

Ken Kesey.

Much has changed in the publishing industry during Ettlinger’s career. Publishers used to rush for their authors’ portrait sessions without a second thought, but at some point the expense began to be seen as an expendable luxury. “They made it so the author had to pay for his own author photos, which was awful,” Ettlinger recalls, “because, you know, I don’t mind taking money from the ‘man, but I don’t want to take it from writers. I don’t care if they succeed or struggle, it’s just not that great. It’s become rarer to find authors looking at the back flaps of new books, and if they do, the images in question might look like laid-back iPhone photos taken after Sunday brunch rather than portraits. professionals.

What is certain is that no one becomes Ettlinger anymore. Even before the pandemic, Ettlinger had started having a harder time doing shoots. “It never occurred to me that it was physical work,” she told me, adding, “I felt like my bones were telling me that I’m going to have to not do that at some point.” Months of confinement have given him a natural break and time to think about what’s next. “I was a bit horrified at the thought of quitting, even though I felt like it was inevitable. I also really felt like my identity was all wrapped up in it. I felt like, I don’t I don’t know, that no one will love me anymore. Since retirement, Ettlinger – slight, talkative, perpetually dressed in black – has spent time making prints and managing her archives, and enjoying her “indoor” life. “, which, of course, involves a lot of reading. Her images will hopefully continue to find other readers, even beyond the dust jacket flaps. At the home of David Foster Wallace, Ettlinger recalls, she noticed a postcard of Don DeLillo attached to the mirror in the medicine cabinet.The art on the card was a portrait she had taken – one of my favorites – of a rugged-faced, dapper William Gaddis in a houndstooth sports jacket, tie and slacks, but with a pair of dirty white canvas sneakers on his feet . Modest, perhaps wrongly, Ettlinger never said a word about the connection.

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