I was hired to participate in a photography session. They were taking pictures for a book cover. A bunch of us showed up for the session, and they put us all in a large hotel suite. They told us to just act natural, have conversations with each other, sit at a table eating a bowl of cereal, whatever, while a cameraman buzzed around the room filming everyone. They were taking a Cinema Verité type of approach. The idea was that the cameraman would record hours and hours of footage, and then they would look back through it all and find the single frame that struck the photographer as the most “real” and the one that best captured the essence of what the book cover was supposed to express.
I didn’t like this way of doing things at all. I argued that the image quality wouldn’t be as good as it would be with a single, properly lit, high-gloss photograph. I argued that they wouldn’t get the stylized look needed for a book cover by just sifting through frames of random footage. I argued that their pretensions of things being “natural” and “real” were pointless because the setting itself was already staged. We had all just been put into this room and paid to act “normal.” The more they strove for some ideal of truth, the more the whole thing became a lie.
I suggested doing things differently. I suggested that we should all gather for a normal group portrait, or maybe we could all be arranged in a tableaux of some sort. I imagined us all dressed in period clothes, arranged in a cluster at the center of the photograph, with our backs to one another, fascinated by the decorative iconography that would frame the photograph once it was placed on the cover. We would be peering up though monocles at sketched cherubs and harps; some of us would be tentatively reaching for quills and stars. These sketches would be gilded and laced with flourishes and streaming Latin banners, while we would be rendered in the middle in black and white, as though our images had been cut from the newspaper and framed in gold.
The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that this was the right cover for the book, that this, in fact, was the only possible cover for the book. I even became convinced that there was no question that this was how the book’s author and publisher wanted it. It had to be this. Once I saw it so clearly, so vividly, in my mind, there was no other way. I yelled at the cameraman. I protested and stamped my foot, almost to the point of tears. But none of them would listen. The cameraman just kept circling me, filming my outburst from every angle, still looking for that single moment, that one frame of undeniable truth.