Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cover Shot

Elizabeth Zelvin

Back when my first mystery was about to come out, a lot of people heard the story of the head shot that not only appeared on the book jacket, but became my “brand” image: on my website, all my bookmarks, eventually my Blogger profile, my Facebook page, and everywhere else a photo was needed to depict Elizabeth Zelvin, author.
It was the shot I loved among a hundred snapped by a fellow writer/off-duty professional photographer, and I got a lot of comic mileage out of how the backlit halo effect turned into what looked like a row of cotton balls sitting on my head in the high-res version. I finally succeeded in getting the hair touched up, and the final product was so effective that I swore I would never replace that smiling face that hasn’t aged a day since 2006 with any other picture.

Since then, my life in the mystery world has generated a lot of candid shots at conventions and book launches, not all of them looking so terrible. Photography technology has progressed to the point where I was able to take my own passport photo recently, holding my little digital camera away from my face to snap it. Now, that was a terrible picture. But no one expects better on a passport, and as long as I don’t leave the country, no one will see it.

I’ve been working for the past year or so on a recording of original songs I’ve been writing and performing for the past fifty years, and the time has come to think about packaging a CD for Liz Zelvin, Outrageous Older Woman. I know this Liz is different from Elizabeth Zelvin, author.
I needed new photos, and since I unfortunately don’t have a portrait in a closet somewhere like Dorian Gray to take the signs of aging time has deposited on my face, I needed a professional photographer who could make me look good. I went a-googling (“Upper West Side portrait photographers”) and found a kindred spirit: Nancy Pindrus, photographer.

Nancy lives and works in a wonderful old apartment near Central Park with two parrots (the elder, age 37, is a music lover whose repertoire includes both “Cancan” and “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring”) and a cat whose dander had me croaking when I tried to sing during my first visit to give her an idea of what would lie behind the album cover.
(Before the five-hour shoot, she ran an air purifier for twenty-four hours, and it worked better than any antihistamine I’ve ever taken for my cat allergy.) I had no problem assembling props: my guitar, of course; a big red hat; drop-dead earrings, a flamboyant outfit, a red feather boa. The problem came when she said, “Of course, you’ll need makeup.”

Makeup has never been my friend. I could probably use that passport and take a trip around the world with the money I’ve saved over a lifetime (not to mention the time) not using cosmetics. My line has always been, “My father never used makeup, and he had skin like a baby till the day he died at 91.” But for this photo shoot, it was not optional.

“I’ll tell you exactly what to buy,” she said. “You know what foundation is, right? Concealer?” Not really. I’ve walked right past all that stuff in CVS thousands of times. I finally convinced her that we’d be better off if she made me up in situ. (And I wasn’t kidding when I said I needed Cosmetics for Dummies. I volunteered to buy a couple of lipsticks and came back with lip gloss instead.) “But I don’t do eyelashes,” she said. “You need them, the more over-the-top the better, and you’ll have to put them on yourself.”

“You don’t understand,” I whined. My last encounter with false eyelashes was in 2002, when for my son’s wedding I tried valiantly to create a dramatic look that would come across well in the photos and ended up throwing the damn lashes across the room. But I did want to cooperate, really. And my own eyelashes could not possibly be called outrageous.
So I went out and bought two pairs of these weird little fringes. One claimed to be self-adhesive, the other came with its own little tube of glue. On the day of the shoot, I got up early, took a few calming breaths, and tried. I really, really tried.

The result—well, Nancy took one look at me and started laughing. In the end, she pasted the second pair (forget about “self-adhesive” and “reusable”) on my lids in the right place. She stroked and patted makeup of various kinds all over my face. Like any other artist, she kept stepping back to see her work and muttering, “Damn, I’m good!” In the end, I looked fabulous. If I had a handmaiden to put my face on, I could look glamorous every day. Since I don’t, I’m thrilled to have these fantastic photos.


Kath said...

Ah, a kindred soul on wearing cosmetics.
I've often thought if I ever publish one of my book mss, I'd use a baby photo. Probably my own. Or a close relative. Or the cat.

If you're looking for votes on your photos, I love every one of them. But I'm pea green with envy at how you pulled off the red hat! Gives Red Hat Society a whole new umph!

Sandra Parshall said...

The pictures are all terrific, Liz, but I love the one with the red hat.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Liz, they're wonderful! The red hat is spectaclar. A good portrait photographer can make even those of us who aren't comfortable in front of a camera relax and then find the best in us -- I had my own experience of that this summer, for Books, Crooks, when the publisher said on Wed there was room for a full author page and to send my head shot by Fri. I didn't have a head shot! But I called a local photographer I knew who fit me in and it worked beautifully (No false eyelashes, though -- too funny!)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks, y'all. I like the red hat photo best too; the photographer's favorite is the three-quarter-length one she calls The Diva. My music website is up at, and you can preorder the Outrageous Older Woman CD, which will be available in a couple of months or so. I get to use all these photos on the wallet-format cover along with a collage of me with guitar at various ages (and no makeup).

Lynn in Texas said...

Liz, you look stunning in all of the photos, but my fave too is the one with the Red Hat!

Simply mahhhhvelous!

Julia Buckley said...

These are amazing, and you don't look like an outrageous older woman, you look like an outrageous YOUNGER woman!

lil Gluckstern said...

The hat makes the picture of an outrageous young older woman. The one with guitar is quieter, but they're all great.

Anonymous said...

Liz, that pix with the red hat is simply FABULOUS!!! You must use this as your major photo from now on!!!! Thelma Straw