Shooting The Writers
“The concept is simple: about six to 10 writers come together at night in a bar and read their work. They get in front of a mic, read for a few, sit down, finish their drink. It’s like all the other readings you’ve been to, right? Not exactly. We’re talking crime. Noir. Pulp. Hardboiled. Violent. Twisted. Bukowski, Cain, O’Connor are revered. If you go to a reading, you’re going to hear bad words. There’s going to be blood. Things are going to get dark. You might be offended.”
So writes Jen Conley earlier this week in a Los Angeles Review Of Books essay A Roomful of Half-Bagged, Semi-Literate Knuckle Draggers. (Read the whole essay – the title refers to the people attending, not the writers!)
Jen, a Brick, New Jersey, home girl and Seventh-Grade teacher/editor at Shotgun Honey, writes a brilliant essay about what, exactly, Noir At The Bar is. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that non-writer me has been involved in two of these literary events. Late last year, I helped Jen find a spot, The Saint in Asbury Park, to host NJ’s very first FIRST N@TB (shorthand) to help promote the book we were both in, Trouble In The Heartland. I photographed that event at The Saint, as well as the more recent one in late May in New Brunswick. So, thank’s to Jen’s efforts, NJ now has two N@TB’s under their belt.
In her LA Review of Books essay, Jen writes “Noir At The Bar is full of writers who have made it, are in the processing of making it, or maybe aren’t there yet.”
And so it is. I’ve seen all three sides of that coin in the two I’ve been part of. And that’s cool. We love hearing a reading from the guy/gal toiling it out, night after night, after the kids and partner has gone to bed, as much as we love to hear from that cat that just got signed or who has a healthy literary pedigree. It’s all good.
She also notes how different Noir At The Bars do different things – some show movie clips, some have actors doing dramatic readings. What the first two NJ Noir At The Bars have had are…me shooting photos. And putting together this video….and this one.
So, maybe photography is the unique thing at NJ N@TB’s. I’ll take that! Prior to the very latest Noir At the Bar New Jersey, I sent a note to the participating writers saying I’d love to shoot headshots of them beforehand. TFP (Time For Portfolio) basically. I don’t charge them, but a) I can put their headshots in my portfolio, and b) they can use said headshots however they wish. It’s a Win-Win for both of us.
Four of the writers took me up on my offer:
1) Jen herself!
2) Joe Samuel Starnes. I first met Joe last December when he read at our very first N@TB NJ. His new book, Red Dirt, recently dropped and it’s goooood. Honestly, if you’re looking for a good summer read, pick this one up.
3) Kevin Catalano, a writer making his way in the world today. He’s a teacher, one of those guys digging out of the 9-to-5 and getting it done when he can. His agent is shopping is novel around now. Much luck to KC.
4) S.A. Solomon, a very established New York crime fiction writer and fan of New Jersey. Suzanne and I have “known” each for a year or two online, but this was the first time we met.
I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time and wanted to work quick. It was a warm, muggy NJ night in New Brunswick. I wanted to shoot on-the-street portraits, probably black & white. I was armed with my 24-105 mm, and my f/4 70-300 mm lens. As an afterthought, I threw in Canon’s basic “Nifty Fifty” f/1.8 lens in my bag too.
Glad I did.
We set up on the corner, just a few steps from Tumulty’s Pub, where the readings were taking place. I worked quick and fast, no auxiliary light, just natural light and my lenses. Let people walk through the scene if need be. Just by turning my subjects 180 degrees gave me a different look, a different background.
I did fall in love with a brick wall, though. Especially with the 50 mm. Just gave me nice color and drop off. As I told Kevin, I was trying to keep it somewhat wide so that, if social media were to be incorporated with the shot, he could have room on the frame to use as a “quote card” – quote/line from book on the left, and him on the right. I think it helps to think ahead for your client. Never know.
I would have loved to shoot more of the writers and done a whole montage, but the timing just didn’t work for everyone. Still, this was a good exercise for me. I had to work quick, adapt to changing light, see what I could create and fix in a short period of time and a small area tow work with. I think I delivered some good shots.
And those who bleed and sweat it onto the page…well, they have something they can use too.
(c)Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | 2015