THE EYES OF MIRIAM BERKLEY
Excerpt from the interview with Eric Forbes and Tan May Lee
Q: What is the difference between what you were doing then in journalism and what you are doing now with photography?
A: In my reviews I had to evaluate a book and try to place it in the context of the author’s body of work. I would read not only the book I had to review, but also the writer’s earlier books and some critical material about them. For interviews—I also did a couple of photographer profiles as well as interviews with writers—the intention was to create a portrait in words, although nearly always the editor would want a photograph as well. In fact, the policy of Publishers Weekly was that the week’s interview had to have an accompanying photograph in order to run. This was a problem when I interviewed the Pittsburgh mystery writer K.C. Constantine, who wrote under a pseudonym in a small town and whose cover would have been blown if his image appeared. The editor and I solved the problem by having me photograph a painted shadow of a man that had been appearing recently on New York City walls.
The work was time-intensive, as I would read the new book that led to the assignment in the first place, and as many of the author's earlier books as possible, earlier interviews and whatever biographical and critical material I could find. By the time I wrote my last interview I had begun writing on a word processor, but nearly all of the research was still manual, I was not yet part of any kind of on-line world. I acquired shelves of reference works about books and writers, and spent a fair amount of time at the public library. Preparing for the interview was interesting, the interview itself was usually fun, and the writing afterwards was tough, as I had to first transcribe the interview and then assimilate masses of information into a coherent piece of a set length. I did a lot of crossing out, writing in, and cutting and pasting, not as we do it on a computer today, but with actual scissors and tape, and I always wrote long, as details about lives have always interested me. Still as I began to write my material cohered into a point of view, into my portrait of that writer.
It is, of course, much quicker and easier to look at a photograph than it is to read an interview or even a review, and with my photographs the feedback was greater and more rewarding emotionally. I would work very hard on an interview, get approbation from the editor when I turned in the piece, and then it would seem to sink into a black hole, especially since I was writing largely for major but regional newspapers in cities where I did not live. Even if the piece appeared in PW I rarely heard from readers unless I happened to be at a publishing party around the time the piece appeared.
The text above is an excerpt from the full interview published in Quill Magazine in 2008 and which can be found online at http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/eyes-of-miriam-berkley.html.