Author, Author

An exhibition at Harvard University is highlighting the work of one man who's been photographing some of America's most celebrated writers for almost 50 years.

"I love it when they're animated. I don't want to tell them to act crazy and be funny, but sometimes they are and that's a gift," said world-renowned photographer Michael Childers.

Childers has photographed more than 100 writers over the past five decades, many of those portraits now on display at Harvard's Gutman Library in "Author, Author: A Photographic Retrospective of Authors, Playwrights, and Screenwriters."

"I love literature. I love the feeling of books. It's something I've always had a passion about," Childers said.

His career took off in the 1960s when he began taking portraits for book jackets. From there, Childers earned a reputation for capturing celebrities on camera, including Michael Crichton, Gore Vidal, and Tennessee Williams.

"It's an astonishing collection of writers, starting with Ray Bradbury and going up to recent photographs of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner," said Steve Seidel, director of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which is presenting the exhibition.

Childers has a knack for putting his subjects at ease and allowing their true selves to emerge in his portrait sessions.

"I love working with these people, especially if it's done in their setting or their home, to see their world and how they write, their books, their possessions. And to know them," he said.

One particular session that stands out for Childers was with Edward Albee, whose play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" won the Pulitzer Prize.

"He's very glacial, very icy, very cold," said Childers. "And I said, how am I going to break through this? And I said to myself, I like that painting, various black and gray, very neutral, let's photograph him over there. And he got in his position and he said, 'Funny you should pick this location. Because that painting there was my lover's painting. He was an artist and he died last year.' And I broke the wall, broke the ice."

"He encountered other human beings and used these processes, in this case photography, to capture something about who those human beings are," Seidel told necn.

"When you have a camera, you possess their soul maybe for an hour. That's good enough for me," Childers said.

"Author, Author" is on display at Gutman Library until November 20 and includes several writers from the Harvard community.

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