I’m working on a sequel to my novel From the Far Ends of the Earth, mostly research and note-taking at this time. The sequel will be following the “missing” mother’s journey of self-discovery and re-invention through the lens of her camera as she travels through Mexico to the tip of South America.
The mother’s photography plays a key part in the first novel. It becomes an obsession for one of the main characters, the son, a struggling drug addict. He receives packets of his mother’s photos, black and white glossies, with no notes or explanations of why she’s sending these to him. They are stark, often disturbing images, wildlife mostly: a horny-head lizard, mean face, wicked eye, flash of tongue; a nasty looking rooster perched on top a fence post, its wings in a flurry, beak open, eyes wild and furious. Another of a dead tree, all bare limbs, like outstretched arms, like someone shaking its fists at the sky, or trying to tear it to pieces.
He doesn’t know what to make of these and pins them on a wall to study. In his drugged haze, he comes to see the photos as pieces of his mother she’s cut from her own body and sent to him to put back together. If he does, she’s saved, and he’s saved, and she come home. If he doesn’t they’re both doomed.
I love photography but have never studied it professionally, so I have a lot to learn before writing this. I began my research by foraging through all my bookcases, large and small, tucked in various corners of the house to discover any books I might already have on the subject. I was delighted to find a few gems:
On Photography, by Susan Sontag. A collection of essays about the art and its cultural significance and influence.
The Joy of Photography, by the editors of the Eastman Kodak Company. A 1979 guide to the tools and techniques of good photography.
The Family of Children A 1977 collection of photographs about childhood around the world from the greatest photographers of the time. This is a sequel to the iconic The Family of Man collection curated by Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg published in 1955.
Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson. A visual perception workshop for film and digital photography.
In addition, I’m reading the The Age of Light, a novel by Whitney Sharer based on the life of Lee Miller, a fashion model who becomes a photographer, studying with the famous surrealist painter and photographer Man Ray. Eventually she becomes his muse and lover. She goes on to establish herself as a noted photographer as well as the first female war correspondent embedded with the Americans. She was there when they freed the concentration camps and took photos of herself bathing in Hitler’s bathtub, after his suicide.
I’ve also ordered a book by the photographer Sally Mann, Holding Still: A Memoir with Photographs. She caused quite a stir in 1992 when her book of photographs Immediate Family was published. Although highly acclaimed as one of the greatest and most influential photography books of the time, it was also criticized for the extremely intimate and personal photographs of her children, some unclothed.
My character begins her journey in the year 2000, before digital photography was popular.
What kind of camera would she have had? Could she create a dark room and develop her own film in the back of her camper?
How would she earn a living as a traveling photographer?
How would she advance enough over the course of two years to earn a cover story in the National Geographic, which she has done by the end of my first novel?
These are just a few of the questions I have. If any of you know the answers or can suggest other reading or research material that might help, I’d be most appreciative.
Doing research for a book is one of the easiest, most rewarding and inspiring stages in the process of writing a novel. I’m a little bit in heaven.