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Jill Krementz
Jill Krementz
The Writer's Desk
ISBN: 0609000489
The Writer's Desk
Ms. Krementz talked about her book, "The Writer's Desk," published by Random House. It is a collection of photographs of writers near their desks from 1967 to the present. She also talked about many of the writers she has met and photographed over the years, including Kurt Vonnegut, her husband
The Writer's Desk
Program Air Date: June 1, 1997

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jill Krementz, photographer, you have a book out called "The Writer's Desk." What's it all about?
Ms. JILL KREMENTZ, AUTHOR, "THE WRITER'S DESK" It's a collection of my photographs over a period of 30 years of writers, and I've photographed over 1,500 writers. So, of course, it's not all of the writers. It's my favorite pictures of a lot of the writers at their desks. But they are all writers at their desks or near their desks or behind their desks. Somewhere there's a desk in the picture, literally or figuratively.
LAMB: Why did you pick this for the cover?
Ms. KREMENTZ: The Eudora picture? I suppose because it's one of my favorite photographs. I think it's pretty recognizable now so that people would know it was my book and because I think that it is a picture about a writer. It's a picture about a writer's place. And I think you feel that looking at that picture that, of course, this is where Eudora Welty would write. It's like her writing.
LAMB: Here's a picture that's not in the book that you gave us to show where she's not at her desk. Why did you use the--why didn't--well, I guess, why didn't you use this one in the book?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Well, first of all, I hadn't taken it then, and more importantly, I brought that picture along simply because it reflected a visit I had had with her very recently. I went down a year ago. I was having a show of photographs in Mississippi and I went to Jackson to see her first and brought her all the photographs. And she was looking at that photograph that's on the cover of the book and all the others and she said, `Jill, thank you for bringing me these. It's just like a visit upstairs.'

And it made me very sad because she could no longer navigate the stairs to go up to that room where she once wrote. But I found it very interesting on another level because I think that all my work that I do as a documentary photographer of writers is in a sense a visit upstairs. It's a way to bring you and your viewers and anybody who sees the pictures up those stairs to see where someone like Eudora Welty works, or even if the desk is not literally upstairs, even if it's downstairs, in a cottage in the back, it's still upstairs, upstairs being a private place.

But I never thought in a million years that I would be showing a photograph to the person I had taken it of and I would be transporting them back upstairs to a place where they could no longer go. So that's why that picture is so meaningful to me.
LAMB: Who's this fellow?
Ms. KREMENTZ: That's Kurt Vonnegut, my husband, who you just met, a fellow Hoosier.
LAMB: He doesn't have any shoes on here.
Ms. KREMENTZ: That's true and he's wearing his pajamas. That's in our house in Sagaponack. What's interesting about that photograph to me is it reflects a ritual for Kurt. It happens to be doing The New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. He is really incapable of writing before he has done that puzzle. And I think that a lot of writers have rituals and a lot of the writers talk about these rituals. For most of them, it's just this cup of strong black coffee. For Tennessee Williams, it was a glass of wine. For George Simenon, he actually went to a doctor for a check-up before he started to write, and he had his blood pressure taken and his heart listened to. And then he went into total seclusion, like a monk, for 11 days. He didn't come out. He didn't do anything else but write. So rituals interest me.

I think the most important aspect of this book is that it's not just photographs. I think that what makes it interesting to people is that each writer, each of the 56 writers, has text accompanying the photograph which talks about, in their words, the creative process; how and why and where and when they write. And some of them talk about the rituals. Some of them say where they got the desk. With Kurt, he talks about a prayer for writers. With everybody, it's different. And I think that it's this juxtaposition and this marriage of words to the text that makes it different than just a picture book.
LAMB: How long have you been married to Kurt Vonnegut?
Ms. KREMENTZ: We've been together since 1970. So that's...
LAMB: Where'd you meet him?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I met him photographing him. I was working at Time magazine as a reporter. I noticed that every copy boy had a copy of "Breakfast of Champions" sticking out of their jeans pocket, and I was just starting to photograph writers and I was very friendly with Dave Sherman, who was the picture editor--a picture editor and the book editor of Life magazine. So I'd go up and see him, and I'd very often photograph writers that he told me had books coming up. And so I photographed Kurt for Life, and while I was photographing him for Life, there was a reporter from The New York Times who was--magazine who was doing a story. So I ended up selling pictures to The Times and it just kept going and...
LAMB: You said you were a reporter for Time?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I was.
LAMB: When did you start your...
Ms. KREMENTZ: I was a reporter in the New York bureau.
LAMB: When did you start your photography?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I've always gone back and forth between writing and photography. I started photographing actually in 1961. I got a Nikon for my 21st birthday as a birthday present and I was working for Show magazine first as a secretary, then as a reporter. And all the--the person who gave it to me had brought it from Japan, and all the directions were in Japanese. So I went to see Henry Wolf, the art director, to ask him how I might load this camera--how I might open this camera.

So he loaded it up for me and he said, `Oh!' He said, `This is like having a Rolls Royce and not knowing how to drive.' But it's the only camera I had. I went off, took pictures and, with no shame whatsoever, came back to Henry and asked him if he could unload the camera and how could we get some contact sheets or whatever and he sent them out for contact sheets. And then I had him look at my contact sheets and talk about which ones were good and which weren't. And he became a mentor for me and a very, very important mentor.

Right from the beginning, he told me he'd look at a contact sheet and he'd say, `If you take three or four pictures of a person doing something, don't shoot a whole roll, just--you know, take different pictures.' And he almost didn't have to tell me that because I was so poor then and a roll of film cost so much that I needed to have at least 20 situations on a roll of film. And I also--it didn't have a motor drive. It just--but I think photographers stay--they stick a roll of film in and they'll take four rolls of the same picture. I think it's nuts.
LAMB: Did you ever do covers for Time magazine?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Not on assignment when I went--I came down here and covered the march on the Pentagon. They had 27 photographers on assignment on day rate with expenses, but I sent my film in that night. I was staying with Neil and Susan Sheehan, and I had got a call that night to say that I had gotten the cover.
LAMB: What year was that?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yeah, when was that? 1963--'64--sixty--it was--it...
LAMB: Well, the reason I ask is because I think I was the military officer assigned to you in '66 or '67 and I haven't seen you since that day. But I'm sure that you got the cover.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Then it was in--it was 1967. Yes. And I remember that I was down and I thought, `Well, if I want to shoot'--I mean, there're all these photographers with important credentials and I thought I should go up to Arlington Cemetery and get everybody coming up. So I got there very early and I went up there and I was waiting and waiting. I was all alone. And I thought, `Well, maybe they--maybe I'm just here and I'll be here till 10:00 tonight. Maybe they went a different way.'

So I went down to see what was happening, and by then, I saw what was happening and I took a few pictures of everybody in the front of the line. I got Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell and all those people and Ben Spock, and I got one of those pictures inside that issue of Time. Then I went back up to Arlington Cemetery. By then, there were all these guardsmen from--and they said I couldn't go passed. And I said, `Well, I was just up there.' And they said, `Well, do you have credentials?'

So I had no credentials, but I had my passport. So I took out my passport and I showed it to them and I'd traveled so much that they saw all these things pulling out and they said OK. And I went back up and I took that picture with the long lens. And...
LAMB: Of Memorial Bridge.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yeah. And then I took some color because I know that I ended up getting the magazine that the--the cover of The New York Times magazine with my color. And I only shot half a roll of color. And when I went to send them in, I had 13 pictures. And I thought, `Well, that is so unlucky. I'm not going to'--so I--and I couldn't add one because I didn't--so I took one out and I sent 12 over. So you'll never need to convince me ever in my life not to send 13 pictures. I never sent 13 of anything. So I did very well that day and that was my one-time cover and you were probably the one who let me through. Thank you.
LAMB: Thirty years ago. Anyway...
Ms. KREMENTZ: It was 1967, right? Yeah.
LAMB: It was either '66 or '67. Go back to your book for a moment. You have a picture here of John Updike and he wrote the introduction for the book.
Ms. KREMENTZ: He did.
LAMB: How did that work?
Ms. KREMENTZ: He's an old friend of mine. I've photographed him 39 times. Over the years, I've--and I just thought that he would be the best person. He loves photographs. I just showed him the dummy and I said, `I'd like you to do it. And if you'd be interested, it would just be such an honor.' And he did write it. He sent it to me in a week. Kurt was sitting with me in my office when his introduction came in. I read it and I just started to cry. I was so moved by his introduction. And he actually had noticed some of the things in the photographs that I hadn't.

He, himself, has three desks--one where he answers his mail; a second where he actually writes his books; a third where he does his work for The New Yorker which is very high tech with a computer and a printer; and then he has a fourth office where he has a big cozy chair and he just sits in there reading books and reviewing them for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
LAMB: Here's the picture of--I guess this would be the computer picture.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yeah. It's been very satisfying to me to--over the years, to have gone back revisiting authors and really documenting their lives, documenting their children as they grow up. With Updike, I just loved going to visit his mother on her birthday. I knew his mother was alive, that she had been a writer for The New Yorker, that she had published a novel, and I knew that John's son David was a writer. And I realized that this was the only situation of three generations of living American writers. There were other families, like the Benchley’s, but one writer was dead. So I asked John if I could take a photograph of all three of them some time and he said, `Well, you know, I'll think about it.' And I'd keep asking him, and then finally he called me one day and he said, `I'm going to visit my mother'--it's on her birthday--`David will be there, and if you want to come, come.' And so that was really fine. And he had given her pictures over the years that I had taken of him. So I went in, I think, as a friend of the family.
LAMB: When did you take this picture of Bill Buckley?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Oh, gosh, I guess in the early '70s I was--first I photographed him at home, and then he said he was going over to NBC to do an interview and I asked if I could go with him. And he said yes, and I jumped into the front of the car with the chauffeur. When I'm traveling with a writer or anyone I'm photographing, I do always sit in the front with the driver, because I don't want to bother somebody when they're in a car. I know that's a time for them to gather their thoughts if they're going to an interview or whatever they're doing. And I just like to stay out of their hair. I like to have enough distance so that they don't feel claustrophobic.

So I turned around and there he was working with Rowley, his companion over the backseat of the car. And I was to find out that he had had this car especially built for him. When the people who were building the car called and asked him how much leg room he wanted, he says, in the book, that he actually extended his legs, asked for a few more inches, and he ended up with an office in the backseat of his own car.
LAMB: Is there--or are there a number of things you can say about writers after having photographed so many? How many--1,500 writers?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Probably 1,600 since I made that last statement because I'm always working but, you know, I don't know if I--in the last few weeks, I've gone back to photograph Chaim Potok, Cynthia Ozick, Joyce Carol Oates, Erica Jong. So I don't know whether I can recount them since I've photographed them--or--Updike would only count for, you know, one time. All I know is that I'm going to have to get a new house with all my file cabinets of photographs. What have I noticed about writers? I would say that none of them have enough bookshelves. I've never been in a writer's office where there weren't just piles and piles of books everywhere. Certainly Robert Penn Warren is a prime example of that.
LAMB: Here's a photo--we'll have it on in a moment--that--I don't think this one is in the book.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yes. That's an example, too, of a picture that wasn't in the book because I--the picture I have in the book is very cluttered and messy and he's wearing his flip-flop sandals. But this is very messy, but you have to see the whole picture to realize just how messy it is because you have to have the stuff all on the floor as well as all the stuff above his head. And in a small book that's a square format, it's going to just focus on Warren and his messy desk. And I had lots of messy table tops.

And I had the picture of Robert Coles showing that he didn't have enough bookcases. So I went with the Coles, with the bookcases, and used Warren in the outside house because I like the idea of almost being barefooted and having the--well, that's the...
LAMB: Coles' picture of--how many...
Ms. KREMENTZ: That's Coles' picture.
LAMB: ...years ago was this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: That, again, was in the '70s. I've photographed him subsequently. In the book I've put him on the page next to the page with the picture of Walker Percy, because I just thought they should be together in the book because they were such close friends. And...
LAMB: Who is Robert Coles?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Robert Coles is one of my heroes. He's an eminent child psychologist, psychiatrist, who knows how to listen to children. And, again, he is someone who has mentored me all my life. The first book I did, the first children's book, was called "Sweet Pea." It was a photo essay about a nine-year-old girl growing up in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. And Robert Coles was very helpful to me and very supportive and has always been on all my "How It Feels" books, on everything I've done. I applied for a Guggenheim. I didn't get it, but he wrote one of my letters for me. He is someone I admire and respect enormously.
LAMB: And you mentioned Walker Percy and here's the photograph.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Walker Percy wrote in bed. I flew down to New Orleans to photograph him. I liked the photograph because I think he wrote also with a Catholic sensibility. So the cross is important to me in that photograph. I returned, oh, 20 years later to rephotograph him and when I was covering the Republican Convention which was held there not long ago--and I went back to Covington and had lunch with him and photographed him with Johnny Walker, his grandson.

In the earlier picture, Johnny Walker was standing beside him in a window with magnolias outside and Walker was standing inside. And Johnny Walker, in his Oshkosh overalls, standing, came up to Walker's waist. When I returned--I guess it was about 18 years later--I asked ahead of time if Johnny Walker might be there. He said, `Oh, yes.' Johnny Walker is now a college student wearing jeans and he is sitting in the window and from his head to his butt is exactly the same height as he once was standing as a two-year-old.

And if you look at the two pictures--I don't have them with me--side by side, it looks as if I took them moments apart because Walker didn't change at all; it's just the son. And, again, that's a perfect example of what a pleasure it is to be able to have that kind of access to a family and to take those kinds of pictures. It doesn't have anything to do with having them published. It just has more to do, for me, with taking them and documenting these people's lives.

And my greatest compliment is always when somebody tells me that their mother loved the picture they sent them, or their son, or if I see it framed in their living room when I go--an earlier picture that I sent or--you know, that it's--or with E.B. White, who was one of my other heroes. I was so excited before I went to photograph him. I was like a small child waiting for Christmas. `Only five more days till I do E.B. White; only four more days; only three more days.'

But then on the third day, before I was going to photograph E.B. White, the phone rang. I was in the kitchen. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon, and this voice said, `Oh, hi, Ms. Krementz. This is Andy White,' and I didn't even know who it was because I didn't call him Andy--I didn't know--Andy--I said, `Oh, Mr. White!' He said, `You know, I've been thinking about this photography session,' and he said, `You know, I just--I am--think I am too old to be photographed.'

I said, `Oh, Mr. White,' I said, `You know, just last week, I photographed P.J. Woodhouse, who is 96 and--93, and I did Rex Stout the day before yesterday and he's 86.' I said, `You're only in your 70s. You're a spring chicken.' And he said--he paused and he said, `Well, come along then.' So I said, `Oh, thank you. Thank you.' I said, `I'll just--I promise you, I'll take a taxi from the airport. I'll have the taxi wait in the driveway. I'll be just in and out before you know it.'

So I went and did him. It was a winter day when I went to do him the first time. I photographed him out in the snow with the geese around his house. And we had a very nice time. I spent a few hours--maybe an hour, I don't know. I just--I do know I kept the Blue Hill taxi waiting for me. And when I returned to New York, I sent him an album of photographs and a thank you note.

The whole time I was there, he kept saying, `Oh,' you know, `it's too bad it's not spring because I usually write in the boathouse. In fact, that's where I wrote "Charlotte's Web."' And so I got--I became obsessed about going back and photographing him in the boathouse which, indeed, I returned to do.

On that same visit, when I went back in the spring, I took a picture of him on a swing. It was a simple wooden swing which his grandchildren had used with just one rope, not two. And he's swinging and his family ended up using that picture on the front page of his memorial service when he died. And, again, I was so sad when he died, and yet it was just, to me, the biggest honor in the world to have had a picture that his family loved enough to use in that way. And that's just better than any book, any picture in a magazine. It's just--that's what matters.
LAMB: Have you ever had an author say no?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Oh, yeah. But sometimes an author will say no because they're busy and they mean it's because they're busy then, but they'd love to do it sometimes when they're not busy. Sometimes an author will say no because they don't want to be photographed.
LAMB: Can you remember one that...
Ms. KREMENTZ: But--well, I usually have a pretty good sense ahead of time if an author wants to be photographed or doesn't. So I'm not going to ask J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon to take their pictures because they're private people; they don't play cat and mouse. They're--they're not coy about it. So I respect that privacy.
LAMB: But if you had one where you...
LAMB: ...they've never had their photograph taken and you called them and they said, `Sure, come on over. I've never done this before' that you can remember?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yeah. Well, I know, for example, that I was very anxious to photograph William Shawn when he was the editor of The New Yorker, because I thought he was the most important editor and that he had nurtured so many of the best writers. And I let it be known that I wanted to take his picture, certainly Updike knew and I guess Mr. White knew, a lot of people knew. But--and I would often say that if he ever would let me photograph him that I would literally stand there, take the picture. As the film came out of my camera, I'd hand them to him and he could put them in a vault till after he died or do whatever he wanted.

But I thought he should be photographed. And I never--one day I'm in California and the phone rings and this man says, `Hello, Ms. Krementz, this is Mr. Shawn. I hope I'm not bothering you.' And I said, `Oh, no, Mr. Shawn, you're not.' He said, `Well, you know, I want to know if I could impose upon you for a favor?' And I said, `Oh, absolutely.' He said, `Well, Time magazine has recently interviewed me for the anniversary of the magazine. And they wanted to photograph me but I told them that I already had a photograph that I really loved of myself. And I was wondering, if you weren't too busy, if you could come and take that picture?' So I said, `Oh, I'm packing to come home now and I'll be there tomorrow afternoon.'

So that was an example of--you know, something that worked out with patience. And then when the picture appeared in Time magazine--I let him pick the picture he wanted, and rather than pick a picture of him at his desk--because I photographed him at his desk, I photographed him at home with his wife and I photographed him out in the park and he's wearing a fedora, and that was the picture he wanted.

And then Bob Coles wrote to me and he said, `I was really interested in that picture that Shawn had in Time because,' he said, `I think that Shawn has always thought of himself as the reporter, the man out on the street, on the beat.' So...
LAMB: What's the story behind this picture of Saul Bellow?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Saul Bellow I had photographed in the '70s in Chicago. I wanted to rephotograph him. He was approaching his 80th birthday. And--so I went to Vermont to take that picture. I began the session--that's a drafting table--and he was actually sitting down at that table. And while I was taking his picture, I was telling him about the picture of Rita Dove that I had taken for the book and that she wrote standing up. And as I was talking, this desk started to rise until he too was standing. So I ended up...
LAMB: Here's a picture of Rita Dove.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yes. Rita Dove, unlike most of the writers in the book who prefer to write in the morning or in the afternoon, she prefers to write at dusk. And she begins by lighting those candles, so that as the dusk turns into darkness, the candles are lit and she can keep going. That desk was built for her by her father. It's, as I said, in a cabin in the woods. Silence is very important to her. She says she wants a silence that is so palpable that you can hear your heart beating in your chest.

A lot of the writers I -- other writers, my husband among them, Isaac Singer, they talk about the interruptions, that this is part of writing. I know that Kurt actually likes to be in his room alone, but he likes all of us in other rooms--Lily in the next room, me downstairs running around. In fact, very often, over the years, I know that if I'm out and--or if--before Lily was born, or if she's out, when I come home, when he's been alone all day, he'll be sitting in the kitchen, dining room, reading or watching television. And as I return, he, very often, will go up and write because it's, I think, easier for him with someone in the house.

I think newspaper people are like that. They like the sounds of the city room and everything going on around them. I think there are people who can write in an airport. I know you think of me totally as a photographer, but the writing I do, I, too, prefer to be in an environment where there's life around me and not in a totally empty house, because then I think it gets lonely.
LAMB: Here's that picture of your husband in what looks to be like postcards. What is this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Well, I've always had pictures published as postcards, usually single postcards that have been published over the years by FotoFolio, and in the last few years I've been publishing postcard books with Pomegranate, a publisher out in California. I began with "Women Writers," and then I did "Black Writers" with Edwidge Danticat on the cover. And then I did the "Men Writers," which you just showed, with Kurt on the cover, of course. And most recently, "Poets" came out this month and--oh...
LAMB: Who's this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Seamus Heany.
LAMB: Why'd you pick him for the cover?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Well, I think that--I personally think of poetry as having a strong Irish tradition with Yeats. I thought that Seamus, because he had recently won a Nobel Prize, would be recognizable. It just--I like the photograph. It was just a personal decision. I probably could have used any number of pictures.
LAMB: How many photographs...
Ms. KREMENTZ: There are 30.
LAMB: ...are in each...
Ms. KREMENTZ: Thirty.
LAMB: Thirty in each of these?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yes, and I've just gone to press with a new one called "Writers and Their Familiars," which is writers with their creatures, whether they're dog--mostly dogs and cats, but Jacquelyn Mitchard with her ferret named Powacket, which was a familiar in "Bell, Book and Candle," Maxine Kumin with her horse.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier Lily?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Lily, our daughter, yeah.
LAMB: How old is your daughter?
Ms. KREMENTZ: She's 14.
LAMB: What's she like?
Ms. KREMENTZ: She's terrific, and she's a very good photographer.
LAMB: She does it professionally already?
Ms. KREMENTZ: No, she doesn't do it professionally, but she actually recently photographed me because I wanted--well, in the postcard book with "Familiars," I have a photograph of Kurt lying on the sofa with Pumpkin, our late Lhasa Apso, sleeping on his tummy, and Kurt, too, is taking a nap. They both liked sleeping. And when Lily came home from board--she's at boarding school now, she was looking at all the pictures. And she saw the picture of Kurt, and then she kept looking at Flower, our new dog, and going, `Mom!' And so we thought that it might be appropriate to somehow get Flower into this postcard book. So Lily took a picture of me at my desk with my familiar, which will be a small picture, and she'll get a photo credit.
LAMB: What kind of camera do you use?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I use very simple equipment. I use a Leica--a Leica M6, and I use a Nikon with an 80mm lens. The Leica has a 35mm. We always have these two cameras.
LAMB: What do those cameras cost now?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I don't know, because I got them so long ago. If I probably had to replace them, I'd have a heart attack. I shoot mostly black-and-white. I like black-and-white. I think that for the kind of intimate photographs I take, that there is an intimacy to it. I also think that it translates the moment into something I've seen and not everybody's seen. If you and I were to stand and look at almost anything, we would see it in color; we would see it the way it is. So what you see isn't any different than what I see, whereas when I translate it into black-and-white, I think I am seeing something that you haven't seen. And I don't work with lights; I don't work with an assistant. I have a small bag over my shoulder which gives me a lot of mobility. I have a very small camera that I use that I always have in my pocket, which is just an Olympus Stylus, that I keep color negative film in. And I use this virtually every day of my life. And...
LAMB: Let me show the audience. I'm going to grab this from you so they can see what it looks like.
Ms. KREMENTZ: And...
LAMB: This is just a little--like a point-and-shoot?
Ms. KREMENTZ: It is. It's-but it's a very simple one. When I send pictures to people from this camera or when they see me working with it, they often say, `Oh, what--I want to get one of those.' And I say, `Fine. It's an Olympus Stylus, and it has a fixed-focus lens. It does not have a telephoto, so when you go in, don't get the telephoto.' It won't cost any more. It's just a gadget, but it will slow you down. And you're not going off using a camera like this to photograph giraffes in Africa. So if you want to get closer to your subject, that's why you have these things called legs. Move in. It actually will make it more of a give-and-take, an intimate relationship, anyway. You shouldn't be so far away from somebody and be grabbing their picture to begin with. You know, if you're going to take their picture, take a good picture.
LAMB: Do you talk to your subjects while you're doing it?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Oh, yes, I do. Oh, I was just going to say about the color picture, I think it takes as good pictures as my Leica or my Nikon. It's not the camera that takes the pictures. So a picture I took in color recently with this is now on the back of Saul Bellow's new novella. So a lot of the pictures I'm taking with this small camera are published. They're--and they're certainly publishable.

As far as talking to my subjects, yes, I talk to them only because it's often interesting to them to hear about some of the other writers that I've photographed. And if they're talking, then they have to concentrate too much on what they're saying instead of what they're doing. So by the time I get them, say, to a situation where they're at their desk, I might start talking in the beginning, but then I'm backing up and there's not a conversation going at all.

For example, with this picture of George Plimpton, in the beginning, of course, we were chatting away, and those kids were running back and forth and getting him paper clips and playing with rubber bands. And then it was time for their bottle, and they're running around with their bottles. And then they just kind of settled in. And I am on a sofa on the other side of the room with my back against the wall, wishing that I could have two more inches because I'm so scared that these twins are going to crawl out of the picture. But...
LAMB: Whose twins are they?
Ms. KREMENTZ: They're George's twins. They were about a year old in that picture. I photographed them the other night. They're not--they don't look like that anymore. They were sitting and reading their bedtime books.
LAMB: What year is this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: That was in 1995--or 1996, just before the book went to press. It was one of the more recent pictures I took for the book. But I met...
LAMB: And where is this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: That's in New York City, in his apartment on 72nd Street, overlooking the river. I first met George when I was working as a staff photographer--well, just before I got hired as a staff photographer for the New York Herald-Tribune, so I met him in 1964. I was called on a Saturday morning by Jim Bellows, who was the managing editor of the paper, and he asked me if I could get on a train in a half an hour and go photograph Amanda Burden's wedding--well, she was Amanda Paley--Amanda Mortimer, actually, and she was marrying Carter Burden. And I ran out of my fourth-floor walk-up apartment very quickly and photographed the wedding. And then George gave me a ride back to New York, and I've been photographing him ever since, as a trapeze artist, as--in every incarnation.
LAMB: What's the arrangement you have with your subject? If they love your photo and they want it, do they buy it from you?
Ms. KREMENTZ: They can. I go in saying that I will give them picture approval. I want them to like my pictures. I feel that it's a collaboration between them and me, which is why I don't work on assignment for magazines. Once in a while, I do. And then I will usually print up anywhere between maybe 10, 20, 25 photographs--prints and I will send them a selection of prints, usually as a present. I'll send them some of the color pictures, often in small frames--as a gift, as a thank-you present for letting me do this. And I will sometimes send them contact sheets if I think they would be interested.

But usually, if they just call and say, `Oh, thank you so much for the pictures and could I get some more?' I'll say `Sure,' and then I'll send them an order form, and they can order additional pictures at what is basically my lab cost, and with the stipulation that these photographs are only for family, friends, a desktop drawer--that they cannot be used--they cannot be published without my permission.

However, if they want to send the picture to a magazine or to their alumni magazine or to their publisher or whatever, they're free to do it, because the photograph is actually stamped on the back with everything but my blood type, so the person who gets the picture knows that they have to call me, because they know they can't, that I'm a professional and that they would have to negotiate for the fee of the photograph.

Now certainly, if somebody calls and wants to use it for a truly non--you know, something that has no money--a non-profit--that's really non-profit--except I'm beginning to think that I'm fast becoming the only true non-profit organization in this country. Every day, I get a call and they say, `Well, we're a non-profit organization.' I say, `Oh, God, you know, that--you mean, you're doing this job--this is a volunteer job?' And they say, `Oh, no, no, you know, I'm being paid, but it's just non-profit.' and I'm thinking, `Well, I'm not getting paid, but you'--but, you know, I try to just work it out.

On the other hand, if I--you know, I photograph somebody and their publisher calls--Bantam--and says--or Saul Bellow, a classic example. I did him on my own, sent him a lot of pictures, and then when Viking Penguin was going to publish his book they asked Saul what he wanted to use on his jacket. He said, `I'd like to use Jill's picture.' I send them the picture; they pay me. And if I'm lucky, in five years, I've actually broken even on the cost of my airplane ride.
LAMB: Who's this man?
Ms. KREMENTZ: P.G. Wodehouse.
LAMB: When was this taken?
Ms. KREMENTZ: That was taken in 1973. He lived in Remsenburg, Long Island. I photographed him in conjunction with an earlier book I did with Israel Shenker from The New York Times called "Words and Their Masters," and he had written an essay about P.G. Wodehouse. And so I wrote to Mr. Wodehouse and asked him if I could photograph him, and I guess either he called me or his--I know I was on the phone with him and I wanted to go and photograph him at 3:00, and he said why didn't I come around 4. And I said, well, I could come at 4. I said, `But I know you watch "Edge of Night" every day at 3:30, and I would like to come at 3:00, and I give you my word of honor I will not say a peep if you'll let me take a picture of you watching your show.' So he said, `Oh, OK.' So I went and took a picture of him watching "Edge of Night."

And I took many pictures. I thought it was easier for you to show the picture with "Edge of Night" on the screen. But as that tape progressed, you could just see him just sitting on the edge of his chair as he--as the--you know, the story was evolving. And then there's one where there's a couple kissing, and he's just really into this program. I had a nice time. He's in my "Writers and Their Familiars" postcard book with his dachshund Jed. And he and his wife were very generous with the Bideawee Shelter in Long Island and gave them a lot of money. And it's actually--there's a part that's named after him.
LAMB: Where did you take this picture of Stephen King?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Stephen King--I photographed him in Maine. That's Marlow under there. I photographed Stephen King when he was just starting out. He had a beard. He--it was in the very early '70s. He and his wife, Tabitha, who is a wonderful writer and a wonderful woman, both came to New York, asked if I would take their picture. I did. I wanted to have them in the book. When Kurt and I went up to Maine last summer to visit our daughter at camp, I wrote and asked him if we could get together while I was up there. You know, maybe all four of us could have dinner. And he said, you know, that they would like that.

And I said that I was working on this book, but that wasn't part of the deal. If he would like to be in it, I would be honored to include him, but if he didn't, he didn't have to feel uncomfortable. But I certainly didn't want to get there and then ask him and turn a social occasion into a business. But--because I--so I wanted to put my cards on the table. And so we got there and nothing was mentioned. We had a terrific dinner. And just sitting outside, his son was there. And I only brought my Leica; I didn't bring my whole camera. You know, I didn't even bring the Nikon.

And after dinner was over and it was actually getting quite dark, he said, `Well, how long would it take for'--he said, `Could you take that picture you talked about in 15 minutes?' I said, `I could do it in five.' He said, `Come along, then.' So we went upstairs and I only shot half a roll of film. And I sent him a lot of the pictures. He actually sent me flowers, he liked them so much. And he ended up using that picture on the back of his new book. I used it for my book, and I think everyone was happy.

Last summer, when I had an exhibition of my photographs on Long Island, they had a show called ‘Creatures’ at the Elaine Benson Gallery. And that was where I got the idea of the familiars. And I had 12 of my photographs of writers with their familiars, including this one. And when I showed up at the opening, Elaine came running up. She said, `Jill, we've already sold a picture.' She was flabbergasted. And so I went in to meet the woman who had bought my picture, and she had a vest on that had all these Corgis on it. And she said --`Oh, I'm so excited about the picture.' She had never heard of me. She had never heard of Stephen King. She collected Corgis. She had a car parked outside. It had `CORGI’ on the license plate. So Stephen and I were very incidental to this big sale.
LAMB: Animals are in a lot of these pictures, including this of Willie Morris. Who is Willie Morris and who's the animal?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Well, that was just an alley cat that he found, a stray cat. Willie Morris is a wonderful Southern writer. It was with Willie that I stayed when I went down to visit Eudora the last time. I had wanted to stay in a guest house or, you know, a hotel, but they were having some kind of antique show down there. And I think the three hotel rooms in Jackson, Mississippi, had been sold out. So I called Willie and he said, `Of course you can stay here.' So I stayed there, and when I went--and I went up and I saw--he slept a little later than I did, and I saw this beautiful writing room of his. And the cat's name is Spit McGee--and took that photograph of him before he drove me over to Eudora's and--because I was having lunch with her.

And I think it's similar in feeling to the photograph of Eudora. I think that you can tell--I don't know why that that is a Southern house. It's all those windows, the light, the peacefulness of it. And I like the photograph a lot.
LAMB: You know, we've showed the actual book photograph there, and you see the spine in the photograph. Does that--a photographer's nightmare, when a book has to be published like this where they split a photograph?
Ms. KREMENTZ: With a gutter, yeah. But I think that it was the only way I could show my horizontal pictures, was to go across the gutter. I think that what is wonderful about this book, besides the quotes, is the size and the format, because my photographs are intimate, and I think that the physical size of the book is intimate as well. I don't want it to be a coffee table book, because coffee table books just stay on the--they're like fancy big coasters after a while. And then they get moved to a bookcase that's high enough to accommodate them.

I want--I think this book is nice if you can put it by your typewriter, by your bedside table. I think it's cozy. And I also think that my best photographs are horizontals because I think we see horizontally. I don't think everything is, you know, tall and narrow, except for my next project, which, of course, will be "Bookmarks"--very tall and narrow.
LAMB: Who is this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Georges Simenon. I photographed him...
LAMB: And this...
Ms. KREMENTZ: ...the day after I took that photograph of Piaget because I was in Switzerland. Piaget had the world's messiest desk; Simenon had one of the neatest. I felt, when I took that picture, that if he had gone out of the room and I had moved one pipe three inches, that when he returned he would have just, without even talking, moved that pipe back to where it had been. And...
LAMB: And who is this...
Ms. KREMENTZ: ...the messy desk...
LAMB: Who is he?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Georges Simenon--he is a very famous writer of mysteries. He did all the "Maigret" stories. He was a very, very prolific writer. He wrote a novel in 11 days. I said earlier that he would go to the doctor, he'd have himself checked out to be sure he was in good shape, and then he would not see or speak to anyone for that 11-day period.

But I was going to say, in the messy desk vs. the neat desk, I've always found that it's the person with the really neat desk, like Simenon, when you go in, they say, `Oh, God,' you know, `you can't photograph me. Let me clean this up first.' Or it's the executive who has one piece of paper who says, `Oh, God, this is a mess,' where the people with real mess and clutter--they wouldn't dare clean it up, because if they did, they would never find anything again as long as they lived.
LAMB: Jean Piaget...
Ms. KREMENTZ: Jean Piaget.
LAMB: Where did you take this?
Ms. KREMENTZ: In Geneva, Switzerland. What was wonderful about his desk was that you couldn't see his desk. There was one small area that was just big enough to accommodate, he told me, a book so that he could place it down and actually turn the pages. Until Updike wrote the introduction to the book, I--all I saw were all those papers and clutter. And what Updike says is he seems to have what looks like two radios in the back, one on top of the other. Don't know what those two radios were doing.

Sometimes I don't--I think I see everything in the photograph when I'm taking it, but it's always fun to go back and rediscover something that was there that I didn't necessarily see or notice the first time around. It wasn't until after this book was published and I had an exhibition of my photographs at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York that--when I had my Tennessee Williams picture blown up very, very large, like, you know, 24-by-30, that I noticed that he has two typewriters on his desk. I had thought he had one typewriter and that that thing in the back was simply the typewriter cover that clamped on over it. But it is clearly the bottom of a second typewriter on its side. So you know, who knows?
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey. I moved to New York when I was 19 and started working at Harper's Bazaar. And...
LAMB: Did you have college?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I went--I took courses for a year at Drew University, which Is in Madison, New Jersey. It's one of the best seminaries--Methodist seminaries in the United States. And then I came to New York and I've always taken courses in New York, whether it's at the Art Students League or--I audited some courses with Margaret Mead at Columbia. I go--even now I think I'm taking courses, in a way, because I go to two or three readings a night. There is so much going on in New York. You know, I think you just start--you keep learning to read as you get older, and you become a better and a better student. So--no, but I didn't--did I go to a formal college and walk out holding my--no.
LAMB: What was your family like, that you grew up in? Are there other--do you have sisters and brothers?
Ms. KREMENTZ: I do. I'm the eldest of four children. I grew up in a very traditional, middle-class family. Most of the mothers didn't work. My mother didn't work when I was young. I grew up pre-television, so I never saw writers on television. When I was in school, reading Thornton Wilder's "Bridge of San Luis Rey," it never occurred to me in 10 million years that I could actually write him a letter or that this man was alive somewhere--and I didn't see him on your show, either.

So I think that's exciting for students today. In fact, even when I went to see Thornton Wilder in 1973, I remember vividly the night before I was at a dinner party and I said I had to leave, I had to get up early and I was going to photograph Thornton Wilder the next day. And this was, you know, all these very sophisticated literary people. And every single one of them said, `Oh, is he still alive?' And I said, `Well, yes.' I know people will think I'll go to almost any extreme to take a photograph, but that's a line I haven't crossed.
LAMB: How many people in your book? And you say there are 56 different people photographed.
LAMB: John Updike has three pictures. How many of them are still alive?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Twenty of them have died: Malamud, Simenon, John Cheever, Katherine Anne Porter, Neruda--so many of them.
LAMB: You have a photograph here by--I mean, of James Michener in the--and by the way, who wrote all the little--you know, they show the name of the individual and then underneath it there's copy. Did each of these people write them?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Text--it varied. With James Michener, I think it was a--probably a pull quote from a Paris Review interview. Georges was extraordinarily generous letting me use quotes from the Paris Review. And certainly, when a lot of the people were dead, I had to go to other sources. But also over the years, as I have photographed people, I have constantly clipped articles and--that are interesting about them, whether or not my picture illustrated it, and put them in the subject folder so that I was able to go back to a lot of other magazine articles.

And then in the case of people like Amy Tan and Roy Blount Jr., Veronica Chambers, they wrote their own text pieces. With Ann Petry, who's 87 and living in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, I interviewed her and then I wrote up, you know--extracted from my interview with her what I thought would be a nice quote and sent it to her and asked...
LAMB: This photograph I was showing...
Ms. KREMENTZ: ...her to agree.
LAMB: ...I want to make sure they know it's Amy Tan...
Ms. KREMENTZ: That's Amy Tan.
LAMB: ...because--in 1996. So this is one of the most recent?
Ms. KREMENTZ: Yes, that was--first I went back to my files and I pulled a lot of the pictures that I loved or knew I had pictures of desks. Then I went back to some of the files where I wasn't sure whether I had desks--for instance, Neruda. Well, I thought I had done him at his desk, but I knew I'd done him holding the shell, which is a famous picture.

And then there were some new people I wanted to add. I particularly wanted to photograph Ann Petry, because I had been hearing so much about her. Every time I went to hear Skip Gates talk, he would talk about this book called "The Street." It was written in the '40s by Ann Petry. So I went to the bookstore and I found the book, and I found out who her agent was and I called her agent. And her agent called her, and before I knew it I was driving to Old Saybrook and taking that picture of her. And we've stayed in touch a lot, and that's been a huge pleasure.

In that picture of her, I wish that there were--had been a way in the book to even tell more about what was going on. But up on that shelf you see a mannequin's head with a hat on it. And that is because she grew up the daughter of pharmacists, and she went to pharmacy school and was working in the pharmacy, and then started writing and submitted a book of hers to a Houghton Mifflin contest and won the contest. And when "The Street" was published in 1946, it was the first book by a black writer to sell over a million copies. And it is such a wonderful book.

I am--that, to me, is what is so wonderful about my profession, because I love to read, and to have had the experience of not only hearing about that book and then--and to have read it, and then to have gone and to have been able to talk with Anne Petry about it, I mean, my God, it just is--I have to pinch myself to believe, you know. I'm sure it's the same way with you, isn't it, I mean, meeting some of the people that you love to read in your studio?
LAMB: Guess what? We're out of time.
Ms. KREMENTZ: We're out of time.
LAMB: Here's the book called "The Writer's Desk" by Jill Krementz, introduction by John Updike. And we thank you very much.
Ms. KREMENTZ: Oh, it was so much fun. Thank you.
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