Intimate portraits of writers

Judith Aronson, an American photographer, spent much of the past 40 years taking portraits of writers, poets, artists and academics. This month, her collection “Likenesses” is published – an examination of relationships between sitters: husbands and wives, parents and children, artists and their collaborators. The selection, and accompanying commentary, evoke a particular social set. “Jonathan Miller remembers Robert Lowell, as does Charles Tomlinson,” Aronson says. “Simon Schama expresses his delight in the poetry of Derek Walcott who in turn tells of what Seamus Heaney means to him.”

Aronson is married to an English literary critic, and many of her subjects were friends. Others required some persuasion before they would sit. Robert Lowell agreed to be photographed only if Aronson would cut his hair. Walcott and his partner Sigrid Nama needed tracking down in St Lucia. “Walcott had not been expecting me,” Aronson remembers. “Nevertheless, I was treated with the greatest hospitality, as if I were a dignitary. An hour before sundown on my last day there, Sigrid said, ‘Derek, we must let Judith photograph you before it gets dark and she leaves the island.’ And so he did.”

‘Likenesses’, by Judith Aronson, is published by Carcanet, £19.95. One of Judith Aronson’s portraits of Geoffrey Hill and Alice Goodman is this month’s Photograph of the Month at the National Portrait Gallery in London, on display until July 31.

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