Cover Art

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.


7 thoughts on “Cover Art

  1. At first I thought your cherubs and harps represented a hierarchy. In which you thought your viewpoint was above his. But if that were true then why did this make me want to clap…
    It wasn't until I leaned back in my chair and took a closer look, that I realized that what you created here is your own Picasso. Every sentence was it's own seperate block of the truth. In the end the single viewpoint of the photographer and his bullsh*t reality and control over the others didn't matter. You took your power back and proved that you had something special to bring to the table. It's a shame that the photographer and others didn't appreciate you. But at least you could see the greater truth and that's all that matters.


  2. This is so convincing that I'm eagerly awaiting a sight of this book cover. And I know it doesn't work like this, but with equal eagerness I wait for a dream which takes this further, so that you know what that book is about.

    Better still, a dream in which the book's plot is enacted, like a movie.

    Or am I asking too much?


  3. Yep, they didn't want to hear you, because they were all a bunch of jerks that couldn't hear you and feel you. The cameraman/photographer just wanted to take away your expression by putting all the focus on your upset reaction. But you had already freed yourself by creating a one of a kind masterpiece. He couldn't duplicate that with his camera if tried, so screw him and screw that other person's book in your dream.
    I like Vincent's idea of writing your own book with that cover design – in real life.


  4. This actually kind of reminds me of my wedding. When looking for photographers, we first found a guy who said he wanted to do exactly this – shoot a ton of video and then snag some pictures from it. We thought the same thing, that it couldn't possibly look as good as a high quality photo, but he was sure of himself. So sure of himself, in fact, that he wanted $10,000 to do it. We didn't yell and stamp our feet… but we sure wanted to at the thought of paying that much for still frames from a damn video.


  5. $10,000??? yikes! I would have turned blue and they would have put me on a stretcher and taken me away in an ambulance. After several attempts to revive me with the defibrillator, I would have been the first person to die on the way to the hospital from sticker shock.


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