The eyes have it

In her book Writers, Sally Soames has photographed over 150 authors. Lila Rawlings looks into Norman Mailer’s eyes and finds out how she did it. Photographs by Sally Soames.

f. as they say. the eyes are the windows to the soul, then photographer Sally Soames must have seen some pretty powerful things in her time. In her book Writers, she has photographed the big bagels of the literary world using natural light and grainy black and white film. In the resulting photographs. it is the eyes of each subject that arrest you. Norman Mailer’s are smiling. Salman Rushdie’s are seductive, Maya Angelou’s are tearful and Edmund White’s are full of wide-eyed wonder. Even those who look away Angela Carter, Martin Amis and Richard Ford seem to be lost in reflective thought.

Having worked as a photojournalist on The Sunday Times for fifteen years. Soames had been used to reacting quickly to events. never moving too far away from her camera or passport. always poised for her next assignment. But the pressure eased when a new literary section was added to the paper and Sally Soames began photographing writers. ‘This really changed the way I worked, the long run-up time meant that I could read the books before meeting the authors so I always had something that I wanted to' ask them about their writing.’

In 1989 she suffered an emotional meltdown. precipitated by the death of her mother. ‘During the long months that my mother lay dying in the hospital. I couldn’t concentrate on anything so I started to read The Mobile Guide to America which was full of easy-to-read information on cities and population. After her death. I decided that I really wanted to go there so I wrote to Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow and other writers that interested me. to ask if I could take their photographs.’

Even the most extrovert of authors have been known to bristle at the thought of posing in front of a camera. But it was this quality that fascinated Soames. ‘I had spent my life photographing politicians. film stars and actors who know how to strike the right pose or create a desired image for the public. Writers are something quite different.’ Even Norman Mailer who was in a foul mood at the start of Madame www.31st

John Irving 1989

Camille Paglia 1992

8The List 19 May-l Jun 1995