Provocative photos of famous authors on display at SF library

Prominent pop culture figures of the latter half of the 20th century — the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Groucho Marx and Neil Simon — greet visitors to the third floor of the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Branch.

Forty-six black-and-white photos, ranging from large to gigantic, make up “Author, Author,” a 50-year retrospective of work by celebrity photographer Michael Childers. The show’s title reflects that though many of the photos’ subjects are film and stage actors, they also are writers.

Many of Childers’ works first appeared on the cover of Interview Magazine, where he served as founding photographer; he often used the position to document personal friends during his years in Hollywood, a time he shared with his partner, late director John Schlesinger.

Interestingly and unusually, the skillfully photographed images in “Author, Author” bring to the forefront artists who are best known for their work — not their celebrity. Literary stars let their prose speak, elevating the work into the spotlight, while the writers themselves often remain anonymous.

These images are not casual snapshots, but in-depth photos, revealing personalities. The image of Gore Vidal has a richness in detail, fully capturing every shadow and wrinkle, fixating the viewer.

Journalist Arianna Huffington’s photo — clearly not posed — is straightforward, expressive and intense.

An image of Tennessee Williams is among the exhibition’s most powerful, with a quality of informality that contrasts with often seen, previously published photographs of the famed playwright. Everything about it, including details one might consider unimportant — raincoat, ears, hair, unshaven face — stand out. But even more important is his casual expression of dominance.

A huge photo of Lily Tomlin, hanging by itself without competition, is equally outstanding, showcasing her signature smile. Viewers can’t help but feel the sense of joy the photo radiates.

On March 7, Childers will lead a walk through the show, followed by a talk at 6 p.m. in the library’s Koret Auditorium with Gordon Baldwin, former associate curator of photographs for the J. Paul Getty Museum.

If you go

Author, Author
San Francisco Main Library, third floor, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays,
9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon to 7 p.m. Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; closes March 22
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 557-4400,
Note: Photographer Michael Childers will lead a tour of the show at 5 p.m. March 7

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