David Robinson Photos

 

Publishing Tales: How the Books Got Published

Over the years, people have often asked me about the authors who have contributed to my books. To be sure, there is a story behind every book of mine, not only about the internals of inspiration and technique but about the specifics of how the books actually got published, including how the authors came to participate. Each of my six books took a different path. Here, in chronological order, is a brief tale of how each of these books came to be.

(Stories about the individual books can also be accessed by the following links).

Beautiful Death
Saving Graces
Writing on the Walls
SoHo Walls; Beyond Graffiti
Reflections
Beard's Roman Women

                Exhibition Photographs from 1963 -

New and Ongoing Projects

Books

Travel Photography / Travel Narratives

India Day By Day (2008)

Turkey Day By Day (2007)

Travel Writing archive

Helen Thomas: The Mystery of the Sahara

Writing on Photography archive

Resume

Contact

Ordering Photographs


Beard's Roman Women

I had compiled a body of reflection photographs taken in Italy using all sorts of reflective surfaces, from Roman puddles to the windows of Venetian vaporetti. As I was able to raise funds, I began making dye transfer prints of some of the best images for exhibition and sale. But at some point, I began to think of the series as a book. I made six trips to Italy just to photograph, paying for the trips by selling some work, subletting my apartment in Boston and doing demolition for a friend on Beacon Hill.

As the idea of a book jelled, I began to think of authors who could help introduce the work and promote the book by writing a preface or introduction. Because I had restricted the reflections series to Italy, I tried to think of a writer familiar with and associated with Italy.

My first choice was Luigi Barzini, the author of the widely read and respected book, The Italians. I called him up and secured an appointment, I'm not sure how. I went out to his house, on the outskirts of Rome, I believe it was Via Cassia. Those details are vague, but the meeting I remember clearly. I was admitted to the house and then into Barzini's office where he sat at the far end of the room behind a large desk. He continued to work on some papers while I took a seat near the door. It took him several minutes to finish, during which time he did not acknowledge my presence. Nor did I speak to him.

Finally, his work completed, the impression having been made, Barzini beckoned me forward and asked what I wanted. I showed him a few photographs and explained my project. Since my reflections photographs are not descriptive or documentary, in trying to promote the book, it was not easy to explain exactly what the book would look like. Some people get it, some don't. Barzini didn't. Nonetheless, we had a genial chat about Italy and its customs which I truly enjoyed.

Back in Boston, I continued to think of possible writers. Then, my wife, Carol, suggested Gore Vidal. More than that, she contacted her old boss, Jason Epstein, Editor in Chief at Random House (which published Vidal) and secured an introduction for me on my next trip to Italy. Vidal lived most of the time in Italy and had a house in Rome. He was going to be in town when I was there, and I was given an appointment to see him at the address he specified on the Corso.

At the appointed hour, with my large portfolio of dye transfers, I rang the bell and was admitted into what seemed like the palace of some medieval potentate, an enormous room with pillars and tapestries and large pieces of furniture scattered about. I was shown a seat across from a line of four or five young blond boys seated on a long bench. They looked at me, wondering what in the world I was doing among them. After an interlude of mutual staring, Vidal made an entry into the room dressed in a long bathrobe. He was expecting me and welcomed me ahead of the others, much to (I imagined) their curiosity, if not chagrin. He ushered me into a room where I spread out my reflections portfolio and gave him my pitch. He got the idea immediately and seemed to genuinely like the photographs. But, he said, he had just agreed to do a similar project for a book on Italy by Roloff Beny (a well known Canadian commercial photographer) and although he didn't really like Beny's photographs and thought mine were better, he felt obligated and couldn't do two projects so similar. It was clean and painless, what writers call a "good rejection."

As I was packing up, however, Vidal made an unexpected suggestion that I contact Anthony Burgess. He thought he'd do it — implying that he thought Burgess would do anything. Moreover, he offered to make the contact for me, using an intermediary.

Sure enough, a couple days later, I was informed that Burgess would be expecting me on a certain date at his house in Bracciano, about 30 or 40 miles from Rome. I borrowed a car and a slide projector from my friend Mario and set out for Bracciano. I pulled into the main square of the small town and followed the directions up to Burgess's house. He looked a bit puzzled when he opened the door but soon made the connection. In order to show him the slides, I had to rig the projector on top of a stack of books balanced on a chair. I managed to get through the slides, explaining as I went along my idea of the book. At the end, he seemed puzzled and asked "What do you want from me?" I told him I wanted him to write an introduction to the book I was proposing. "No, no," he said; "This deserves something more; this deserves a novel."

Totally nonplused, I must have stammered some response, but I was thinking "What in the world am I going to do with a novel?" This did not in any way advance the goal of publishing my book - a monograph of my work, not someone else's fiction. Still in a state of confusion, I packed up my slides and projector, put away the books and was mumbling some goodbye on my way out when Burgess' wife, Liana, came back from having lunch in town with friends. Burgess introduced us and briefly described my project. Curious, she too wanted to see the slides, so I set up the chair, stack of books and projector and went through it all again.

At the end, Burgess again declared, now to Liana, "This deserves a novel — a novella — don't you think?" "Absolutely!" she responded without hesitation. By this time, I had gathered my wits, figuring, "Why not?'" So, I told him that if he would agree to use my agent in New York, I would suggest to her that we do a joint project, his novella with my photographs. He readily agreed and said we should go in fifty-fifty. We shook hands on it. I left them, not having any idea of what was going to happen. I had not achieved the goal I had come for, but maybe I had accomplished something.

I called my agent, Bertha Klausner, from Rome and recounted my experience in Bracciano and Burgess's idea to do a book together. Bertha was a remarkable woman, the daughter of the Jewish writer Jacob Adler. She was a font of ideas, always thinking about possible books. When in New York, I often slept on the couch in her home / office living room. Even at breakfast, she was pitching ideas. And, she knew everyone in New York publishing and which editor would be the best for a particular project. So, Bertha didn't hesitate; It took her a single phone call to Gladys Carr at McGraw Hill to sell the book.

Without fully appreciating it, I had given McGraw Hill a coup by delivering Burgess to them. When I returned to New York, we hammered out a contract, sent it to Burgess and he signed it. Now I had a contract for a book that I never had anticipated — but I was no closer to getting my monograph published. As far as Burgess was concerned, all that remained was to see if he would actually deliver. Novels are not written overnight, but Anthony Burgess was true to his word and managed to turn out Beard's Roman Women in less than three months. Gore Vidal had been right after all.

One of the leading characters is a young female war photographer who for relaxation in between assignments takes pictures of Roman puddles. Seventeen of my photos, mostly color, appeared bound in between the signatures of the text. The photos were small and not well produced, but they were there. I ended up making more money on Beard's Roman Women than on any of my other books because I was on Burgess' pay schedule — even though he later amended the deal to sixty-forty in his favor. My photographs appeared in both the U.S. and British hardcover editions — in the U.K. the book was called Rome in the Rain — and then quietly dropped from all other editions despite the contract.

The broad outlines of this story are confirmed by Burgess in the second volume of his autobiography, You've Had Your Time;

"Liana and I were briefly in Bracciano when I was adventitiously pushed back to the practice of my métier, or what I considered to be my métier. A young American photographer had found my address and arrived with a number of pictures he had taken of Rome under the rain. To wish to photograph Rome under a dull sky was original enough: sun and Italy were supposed to go together. In effect, the young man who gave his name as David Robinson had photographed a double Rome — one sitting on its rain-puddled reflection. He wanted to make a book of these pictures and he required a text. The notion of a brief novel stirred in me. One of the characters should be a Roman photographer, and her photographs and the text should complement each other. I naturally thought of a woman photographer, black haired, short skirted, seductive. I was going to put a version of my wife in the novel. . .

"I wrote the novel fairly rapidly in the summer of 1975, mostly in the Bedford Dormobile. I began it in Montalbuccio and finished it in Monte Carlo. . .

"I would perhaps understand the book better if Vincenzo Labella had fulfilled his promise to make a film out of it. It would not have cost much, even with — as was proposed — Sean Connery in the lead."
Postscript: Much later when I read Gore Vidal's essay for Roloff Beny's coffee table book, In Italy, I was thankful he hadn't written anything for me; Vidal snidely trashed the photographs, taking great pleasure it seemed in biting the hand that fed him.

top





Reflections

I still did not have the monograph I wanted, a book of my photographs — and in my (own) name. I had to begin again searching for a publisher, shopping the proposal around New York. I had good response to the work — one editor even bought a photo — but no deal.

In December 1976, ICP (the International Center of Photography) in New York offered me a small show of my Reflections series dye transfers in the center's bookstore on what turned out to be the ICP's second anniversary. There was a big party. At the opening, I heard a flurry of activity out in the hall and then a rush of flashbulbs surged into the bookstore following Jackie Kennedy Onassis. We were introduced, and I quickly explained the Reflections photos to her while flashbulbs continued to pop all around us. (I have never seen any of these photographs, but I'm sure many exist somewhere). Mrs. Onassis seemed genuinely interested in the work. She was an editor at Viking at that point, and either she asked me or I asked her to let me show her more of the photographs in her office. I did so soon after the opening. She was very supportive and wanted Viking to publish the book. But then the senior editors at Viking informed her that they had already passed on the project. She didn't have enough clout then to counteract their decision, so nothing came of that prospect either.

Finally I found an editor who wanted to do the book, Don Hutter at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, but as gratifying as that was, that alone wasn't enough to get the project accepted. It lingered and languished without any final decision. Issues such as trim size, number of photos, size of the run, price — the practical and unemotional side of publishing which I was beginning to learn — remained unresolved. At one point, Don and I spent his lunch hour in several bookstores up and down Fifth Avenue looking at photo books for ideas as to size and presentation. That's how it was done in those days.

Then I got a break. An editor visiting from London, Tom Rosenthal from Secker and Warburg, saw the book proposal at Holt and asked to take a look. (Carol had worked for him, too, and she had tipped him off). Tom took the proposal back to London with him and was able to solve all the practical problems to his and Holt's satisfaction. They agreed to co-publish the book.

While shopping the book to publishers, I was also looking for someone to do an introduction. This time, I wanted to avoid the literary types — please, no more novels! — so I began to think of critics or photographers. At that point in the world of photography color photography was not taken seriously as an artistic medium. In fact, color was suspect. (We now know that serious but yet-to-be famous photographers were taking color photos, but they weren't telling anyone; they were still in the closet, so to speak). There was one exception, Ernst Haas, a Swiss photographer based in New York. He shot in color — and he had photographed lots of reflections in New York as well. He was an obvious choice, and when I approached him, he readily agreed.

I was happy with Ernst's introduction; he wrote as a photographer who himself was fascinated with reflections and understood what I was attempting. He got it;

"The magic of (David's) photographs lies in their impressionistic, multi- dimensional, and enigmatic quality. His aim was not to depict concrete facts or critical opinions about a foreign land, but rather to show the fragmented imagination of a photographer turned into a walking dreamer with lyrical feelings and open eyes."
Not a novel but just what I wanted. Reflections came out in 1978, and at Secker and Warburg we made plans for another book to follow — not more reflections, which I refused to do but a series of photographs abstracted in other ways. However, a financial downturn in the early eighties put that idea on hold, and it never was resuscitated.

top





SoHo Walls: Beyond Graffiti

Although I lived in Boston, I made frequent trips to New York City. One of the places I was drawn to — to photograph — was SoHo where the artist scene was in full swing. (I began photographing there in 1979). As I wrote in my introduction;

"When I first went to SoHo, it was because I was interested in art, and there is where the art was. . . What made SoHo so special for me was the intensity of what was happening in that compact twenty-block area. Art is not a 9-to-5 job, there is no turning it off, and it is not restricted to galleries or formal settings. Art was in the SoHo air, its energy palpable, spilling out of the lofts onto the streets — and onto the walls."
I had photographed walls in SoHo for several years before it dawned on me that this body of work would make a potentially interesting book. On each trip to New York, I found more and more art on the SoHo walls and more that pushed the boundaries of what I had seen before. When I began thinking of the series as a book, I began visiting SoHo more often and working more systematically. And, having put a proposal together, I began approaching publishers with the idea.

I soon found out that graffiti — at least in New York editorial offices — had a terrible reputation. It was regarded as defacement and vandalism, period. I could understand why; this was the era when subway cars were so heavily covered with graffiti that riders couldn't see out the windows. Spraycan graffiti was ubiquitous, invasive and most of it downright ugly, done by people without talent. As soon as I introduced the subject of graffiti to editors, they would respond with some negative tale about the subways. Even those who professed to appreciate graffiti made the automatic association with the spraycanned subways. Revising my proposal to counteract these negative impressions, I worked hard to separate what was happening in SoHo from what was happening on the subways and elsewhere with spraycan art. I did a lot of reading and research in an attempt to distinguish the two movements, one the expression of black and Hispanic youth protesting the ghetto with bright and bold colors sprayed on large surfaces and the other a movement of mostly white artists protesting conditions in the art world of galleries and museums through small guerrilla gestures. That was the reason for the title; SoHo Walls: Beyond Graffiti.

Although I began to exhibit this series of Cibachrome prints, I had had no success with editors and had reluctantly come to the conclusion that I should go on to some other book project. On a trip to London, however, I brought some of the prints to show galleries. Then through a literary agent friend, Carole Blake (another person Carol had worked with in publishing) I was able to contact Thames & Hudson. I left the portfolio of Cibachromes at their offices around 5 PM just before closing.

We were staying with Carole Blake, and the next morning she woke me up to take a phone call — Thames & Hudson wanted to do the book! I was floored. As an artist (or writer) one gets used to rejection; we come to expect it. So, when acceptance replaces rejection, it's initially hard to credit or comprehend. Overnight acceptance is certainly unexpected. And in this case, it was virtually anonymous; there was no process of negotiation, not even a face to face meeting with the pro-graffiti editor (or editors) who made the quick decision to accept the book. I never met whoever was responsible.

With the book accepted, once again, I began to think about who might be able to write an introduction. (Some years before, Norman Mailer had done an introduction to a book on graffiti, and it would have been exciting to find an equally iconoclastic and outré writer to comment on my SoHo work). But Stanley Baron, the Thames & Hudson editor assigned to supervise the book, strongly discouraged me from seeking a writer. A waste of money, he thought. His theory was that while famous writers can sometimes help sell the book to stores, they generally do not increase sales to the public. Since I had not come up with a specific writer to suggest and he refused to pay for an introduction anyway, I did not pursue the idea. Instead I put my efforts into writing my own introduction (as I usually do in any case).

SoHo Walls came out in the fall of 1990 — just weeks before I left New York to live in Paris. The only promotion I was able to do was at a Barnes and Noble in SoHo the night before I left. (At that book signing, a man who did not identify himself, handed me a wrapped package and then faded out the door. When I opened the package, I saw it was a canvas painting by one of the artists whose work I had photographed and included in the book. The painting was unsigned. This mystery man was one of the few SoHo artists I ever met — even though he did not give his name — although I tried hard to find them).

Thames and Hudson had published other books on graffiti — of the spraycan variety — and evidently saw my book as another in their series. SoHo Walls was produced in the same size and format as the other Thames & Hudson graffiti books. Whereas those books have found a steady market, SoHo Walls did not sell well. Could a writer have helped? We'll never know. But I think the problem is more fundamental. As I had argued — as eloquently as I could — in my proposal, the wall art in SoHo was different from the more ubiquitous spraycan art. Ironically, the one publishing house who wanted to publish the book — because of their love for graffiti — made the same mistake as all those who had turned the book down; they failed to appreciate the uniqueness of the SoHo walls — the very essence of my book. I got my work published — and I am proud of how the book turned out. But at the same time, I am disappointed it didn't sell better and in the realization that the very people who published my work didn't understand it.

top





Writing on the Walls

My graffiti photographs had a far more positive response in Europe. Europeans have always been more willing to view graffiti as a legitimate art form — especially when it's centered far away in New York. Whenever I showed the SoHo Walls series in France and Italy, the reaction was generally positive. Through friends in Milan who liked the work, I was able to have many of my SoHo Walls exhibition photographs printed at a lab there.

One typically positive response occurred in Verona. While visiting there I saw an exhibition of photographs at the Casa di Giulietta — the house where supposedly Shakespeare's Juliette had lived and Romeo had wooed her below her balcony. The arched entrance to the house is covered with lovers' graffiti. Inside the old building I was surprised to find a multi-story modern exhibition space devoted primarily to showing photography. Curious, I made enquiries at the desk and was put in touch with the organizers of the exhibitions there, a group called the World Action Project. It was really a pair of young activists, an Italian man, Lucca Darbi, and his English partner, Jill O'Connor. They arranged exhibitions and raised money for charitable work in and around Verona.

Lucca and Jill liked the SoHo Walls photographs that I had just printed in Milan, and as we talked over the next few days, an idea for a project emerged. They were receptive to the idea of graffiti, particularly given the association of graffiti with the Casa di Giulietta itself. In Italian, the word "graffito" has a much broader meaning than does its English counterpart. So, as we discussed various forms of "graffito" I began to think of other photographers who had photographed walls. I knew two personally, Aaron Siskind who is the Godfather of abstract photography (many of walls) and Salvatore Mancini who had photographed petroglyphs in the U.S. Southwest and elsewhere. And, I had seen Leland Rice's photographs of the Berlin Wall that had recently been published. With my SoHo photographs, four very different views of wall art, but together, I could see that they could make an interesting exhibition. Lucca and Jill agreed and asked me to contact those photographers and put the exhibition together, which I was able to do when I returned to Boston.

This time, I got to choose a writer, and I selected Charles Traub of the School of Visual Arts in New York, a photographer and writer and former gallery director who had, among other things, written about Aaron Siskind's work. Lucca also wanted an Italian writer, and he chose Roberta Valtorta, an art historian and academic. To accompany the exhibition, the World Action Project was to publish a catalogue, but I was unprepared for the size and quality of the catalogue that they produced. Writing on the Walls measures 11 ¾" x 11" and in addition to the two essays, the catalogue includes resumes and statements from each of the four photographers, plus 15 photographs each, all very well produced. The wrap-around cover photograph by Roberto Tronconi of the lovers' graffiti covering the Casa di Giulietta entrance, was an inspired choice by Lucca and Jill.

Unfortunately, none of the four photographers ever saw the exhibition. I was in the process of moving to Paris, and the others for one reason or another weren't free to go to Verona. And although DAP was interested in distributing the book in the U.S., shipping enough copies from Verona proved unfeasible. So, Writing on the Walls has had very little distribution, and copies are rare. Presumably they are still sitting in a warehouse in Italy.

top





Saving Graces

Carol and I moved to Paris in the fall of 1990. We ended up staying for two years. During that time, I was able to produce two books on European cemeteries. Saving Graces was the first to be published.

I had first gone to the famous cemetery of Pere Lachaise out of simple curiosity and later to work on a conceptual series. For that, Pere Lachaise was merely a quiet place to concentrate. But as I spent more time in the cemetery, I began ranging further afield from my initial interest and began photographing more of the cemetery. Soon, I was going to Pere Lachaise and the other Parisian cemeteries almost every day. Each time I kept finding more and more remarkable things to photograph. I wasn't concerned about biography or history; what attracted me was the artful and elaborate forms of commemoration, from vases of flowers to sculpture, from engraved inscriptions to mausoleums. I began photographing systematically, always looking for something new, something I hadn't seen before. I was continually rewarded.

One of the things I began noticing were life-size sensuous women scattered throughout Pere Lachaise. As I kept finding more of these beautiful women, I also kept questioning their purpose. (The entire story is told in my after-word to Saving Graces). Photographing cemeteries became the focus of my time in Paris. I traveled throughout France and to eight countries to find and photograph various forms of commemoration, including, but not limited to, the women whom I now called the Saving Graces.

In Genoa's Staglieno Cemetery, I found the sculpture which ended up on the cover of Saving Graces. After making that photograph, I knew my cemetery work was done and that it was time to head home. By then, I also knew what kind of a book I wanted Saving Graces to be; I had photographed this series consistently in black and white, vertical and in a straight-forward documentary style. I wanted a small book, and in the end Saving Graces turned out to be just as I had envisioned it while doing the photography. That seldom happens.

It wasn't as easy as all that, however. Back in New York, once again I had to shop the Saving Graces proposal, and I began making the rounds of publishers. (At the same time, I was also showing work for a larger, more general book on European cemeteries). Luckily, I was able to meet Jim Mairs of W.W. Norton, an editor with many excellent photography books to his credit. He got the concept, agreed with the design and liked the photographs. We set about discussing a writer to do the introduction, and he suggested Joyce Carol Oates. Jim sent her some samples of the work and an enquiry to see if she would be interested.

I clearly remember the opening night of my exhibit of my Saving Graces and other cemetery photographs at La Maison Francasie at New York University. Jim walked in and handed me Oates' response to our enquiry. It was the introduction itself; her response had been to simply write the piece. I had heard of her reputation as a prolific writer and I was holding in my hand a tangible, unexpected, example. At this point, the book had not been officially approved by Norton, although Jim had committed to pay for the writing. Thus, Jim said, the two of us might now own Oates' introduction.

But of course, having Joyce Carol Oates on board helped get Norton's quick approval. Moreover, I believe her forward has helped sell the book. The printing — after 4 tries — turned out to be excellent. The first run (1,000 hardcover and 5,000 paperback) sold out. Another 5,000 of the paperback version was reprinted in 1999. I never met Oates until much later at a book signing where, briefly, I was able to thank her in person. The collaboration had simply been her looking at my photographs. The work spoke for itself- which is what artists always say they want.

top





Beautiful Death

The other cemetery book proposal I was shopping around to publishers provoked near universally favorable response — and universally strong resistance, too. Almost all the editors I showed the work to — I was showing 16" x 20" prints — professed to admire the work. But at the same time, none believed their boards or the public would buy a coffee table book on death — that's the way they saw it. One editor — luckily, I have forgotten his name or company — growing red in the face, virtually shouted at me that this work would NEVER be published! Obviously, the work had touched an emotional nerve. Of course, that's what I want my photographs to do. Even though I was momentarily shaken by this man's sudden outburst, I remained convinced that the emotions my cemetery photographs generated were positive and that people would understand that.

The editors' assumptions about the public's negative reaction to photographs of graves was counteracted repeatedly by almost everyone else to whom I showed the photographs; "I love cemeteries!" was a frequent exclamation, even before I showed the work. I was convinced the editors were wrong about popular taste. But I had to find a way to convince them. Just as I had done with my graffiti photos of SoHo, I set about trying to overcome their negative reactions by reading and research and trying to place my photographs in the context of popular views toward death in the nineteenth century (when most of the large urban cemeteries of Europe were created). My initial title for the book was "Fragments of Immortality" and in my proposal, I emphasized the art, the idea of meditation and the accepted concept of immortality, that death was merely a temporary absence awaiting reunion with loved ones in eternity. (A brief history of "modern" — C 19 — European cemeteries and my views about them and the art of commemoration in the eight countries I photographed can be found in my essay in the book).

While my revised proposal may have helped, more important was my good fortune in finding another literary agent to take over the project. (Bertha Klausner and I were still friends, but she was much less active now). After our return from Paris, Carol was freelancing for Publishers Weekly, and through that connection I met Barbara Braun who agreed to represent me. It was her idea to solicit Dean Koontz to write an introduction to the book. We had discussed many other potential authors, and I even wrote to some directly. I received a wry rejection from John Updike dated January 29, 1995 that illustrates many of the issues surrounding author's introductions;

"Dear Mr. Robinson,

I have been slow to answer your letter of the 9th because I don't didn't quite know what to say, On the one hand, the single photo is quite striking and funerary monuments do somewhat interest me. On the other hand, I am invited to write a lot of introductions for no other reason that the author and publisher think my name on the cover will help sell the books. (I don't know why they think that; my name on my own books does not produce wonders.) You mention no fee and I assume there is none. There is furthermore the physical awkwardness of sending photographs back and forth. There would be the embarrassment of looking at your photos and finding I can think of nothing to say. Viking/Penguin have evidently not quite committed to publishing them in any case. It seems to me the proper introduction should come from the photographer himself or an expert in the art, which I am not. So, for all these reasons, I fear I must decline, with regrets and best wishes.

Sincerely,


(signed) John Updike"
Dean Koontz was a "name" author with a reputation for fiction dealing with the supernatural. As Jim Mairs and I had done with Joyce Carol Oates, Barbara sent Koontz the proposal and some photographs. He said he would do it. I did not know his work, but he turned out to be an inspired choice - because, for one thing, it got the book accepted. Barbara sold the package to Christopher Sweet at Penguin Studio books, hammering out the all financials, trim size, run etc. It was Christopher who, reading my text for the book, came upon the phrase I had used to describe the Romantics' attitude toward death — "the Beautiful Death" — and saw that as the book's title. Another inspired choice.

By this time, I was living in California. On my next trip to New York, Barbara, Christopher, another editor and I went out to lunch to celebrate the contract and discuss the next steps. Since I had not yet read much of his work, I remember asking (after a glass or two of wine); "What if Dean Koontz writes something awful?" (I didn't use those words). There was a silence, then the other editor said, "Oh, he wouldn't do that!" But when I repeated my question, Christopher, replied, "Well, that's what editors are for." That was all the assurance I was going to get, so I left it at that. I tell this story because in fact what Dean Koontz sent us was a text that I felt was inappropriate. It was a personal history emanating from his parents' graves and recounting their stories and his childhood, a moving story - but one which had nothing to do with my photographs or the book. Although they could see my point, both Christopher and Barbara were hesitant to take the matter up with Koontz. But finally, we agreed on a letter from Barbara tactfully asking him to make some modifications so as to adapt the text to the photographs.

To Koontz's credit, he readily agreed and added paragraphs in the beginning and end that spoke to the theme of the book and to my photographs. I came to view his essay as testimony of the power of these photographs to provoke deep emotion and personal reflection. I was content to leave it at that, happy to have Dean Koontz's contribution.

On another important matter, Koontz was also readily accommodating, although his decision probably cost both of us and Penguin Studio a good deal of money. Penguin had decided to print 50,000 copies — an enormous run — in order to keep the retail price under $25. I'm sure that they were banking on Dean Koontz's name to sell the book, and I could understand that. But I felt it was my book and that I had to assert the prominence of my name on the cover. Without any hesitation, Koontz agreed, saying the book was mine and that the cover and promotion should reflect that. I did not meet Dean Koontz until years after Beautiful Death came out; he came to Marin to speak and sign books at Book Passage. I found him to be very gracious and generous with his praise.

The book was designed by Jaye Zimet based on my general concept. I chose the chapters and groupings of photographs and sent suggestions and reactions to Jaye by express mail. But trying to coordinate the design of the book long distance turned out to be a mistake. I should have flown to New York to work with her face to face. Not everything I wanted was incorporated; we ran out of time. But in general, I am pleased with the look of the book.

top





Postscript

Even with six books published, most of my photographs, even those that have been widely exhibited, remain unpublished. (Samples of unpublished work can be seen on this website under Exhibition Photographs 1963 -). Several proposals have yet to find publishers. (Some of those can be found on this website under New and Ongoing Projects). They have been shown to many editors, and someday perhaps, I'll be able to tell the stories of how these books came to be.

top