Sex, Lies & Digital Proofs by Robert E. Sandiford: Whose Image Is it Anyway?
My wife didn’t see the cover of my 2013 prose collection of erotica, Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites, until it was at the printer. There was, to my mind, at least one good reason for that: the cover was a photo of her.
For the first two of the three years I wrote The Onlooker for the Nation newspaper in Barbados, she read every column before it went to my editor. She was the only person to read the entire manuscript of my novel And Sometimes They Fly before I submitted it to my publisher, DC Books. My wife hasn’t read everything I’ve written before it’s released to (or unleashed on) the world. Since we’ve been together, she’s actually read a rather select percentage of my work. A manager by training, “not a writer or anything like that,” she’d say, her artistic judgement is nonetheless very reliable.
I’d be a fool not to run the cover by her. But I was unsure of her reaction.
My photo, her image
The cover is a photo I took of her at our front door, maybe circa 1998. It’s late morning, and we’d just gotten out of bed. She’s still wearing the black negligee I had bought her for a birthday or anniversary, and she’s tying up her hair before going out to the laundry room to put in a load of clothes. There’s something about the light and her posture that makes her limbs look longer than they actually are; she’s a neat 5’2″.
My camera happened to be nearby, a Kodak 35mm with basic zoom. I took the shot, and, surprisingly, she didn’t complain: about her hair or dress or being ambushed in this way.
We were not long into our marriage then. Years of comfort with your partner, however, can make a person unexpectedly self-conscious. I thought my wife might veto my choice of the old photo as cover art for Intimacy 101.
“You didn’t ask me my permission,” she said, mock serious, when I finally showed her the digital proofs of the cover.
“It’s my photo,” I said.
“Eh-eh. But it’s my picture,” she said before moving from the screen to clean the bathrooms.
When Barbadian filmmaker Russell Watson visited our house two years ago in October, he saw the photo. He was over to interview me for a series of shorts on local writers he was producing for the National Cultural Foundation’s 2012 National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA). The cover photo rests quietly in the family room, in no fancy frame, on top one of my filing cabinets. He was looking for a good place to shoot and asked to see–marched, actually, right into–that room.
He stopped when the photo caught his eye, held it up. “The Mrs,” I explained. “I took it. Many, many years ago.”
He nodded. I realize now I don’t know what caught his eye, the light, the woman, what she was wearing. But he said, “Lucky man,” and I nodded.
There’s probably another reason I didn’t share with my wife my desire to use this photo of her as the cover for Intimacy 101, and this reason carried over even into my dealings with the book’s designer: as sexual as we are, most folks aren’t so comfortable with overt references to the erotic, much less to their own eroticism.
The nature of the thing
When I met with my book designer, Carissa Lee of Cleeative Design, to discuss the specs and content for the book, I told her, “There are certain stories, because they’re dealing with relationships, that are more graphic than others. But you’re an adult. You’ll get over it.”
I should mention Carissa is a former student of mine. I taught her Research Methods at Barbados Community College in the Division of Fine Arts. I oversaw the writing of her final-year illustrated research paper. A talented graphic designer, she clearly had a natural understanding of book design. She was my first choice for the job, if available.
All this Carissa knew – not really the exact nature of the thing, which I should have been more frank about. Nor did I know, despite her reserve, that she was rather religious. When finished the proofs, she wrote me in an email: “I do not feel comfortable with certain topics including witchcraft and immoral sexual behaviour and working on jobs that include this would go against what I believe as a Christian. I had failed to get sufficient info on Intimacy 101 before agreeing to do it but I had already agreed and therefore kept my word.”
Right thought, right action
The time for reticence on my part was clearly over. “I respect your position,” I wrote back. “Mind you, you should probably know that I am also a Christian – baptized, confirmed and married in the same little church in LaSalle, St Lawrence Anglican, which I still attend when back home in Canada – and I have a different view of what goes against the grain spiritually.
“Much–probably almost all–of my own writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, has had to do with family, relationships and notions of right thought and right action…issues dealing very much with the morality of our lives from, I must say, a decidedly Christian perspective.”
Carissa’s reply was heartening. She’d not misread the spirit of my sentiments, always a possibility when sex, religion, art, or politics is involved: “I appreciate your comments and it is quite possible that with time and more experience I may view it from a different perspective. At this point, however, I feel comfortable with the decision I have made and I thank you for your understanding.”
After that, we got on with it. Carissa proofread copy as well as worked on the graphics, and insisted she personally deal with the printer when readying the final proof for press “to ensure the job is done to your satisfaction.” She was professional from start to finish, not that I’d actually expected anything less from her.
Despite the ugliness in our world, there’s still plenty of room for Beauty and Truth. I like to think both may be found in the particular spaces I explore. As a writer, as an artist myself, I don’t pass judgement on others, no matter how uncompromising my critique of or curiosity about society. My vocation, as I’ve embraced it, is to tell it like it is and like it ain’t. To describe life as it is and life as it ought to be. From cover to cover, and with grateful creative assist, Intimacy 101 along with my other work attempts to do this.