Friday, July 8, 2016

Marianne Wiggins

Marianne Wiggins, Toronto, Oct.1990

I HAVE TO MAKE A GUILTY ADMISSION: I didn't know much about writer Marianne Wiggins when I added her to the name of writers I wanted to photograph at the author's festival back in 1990, when I also shot Richard Ford and Edmund Wilson, Elmore Leonard and George Higgins. What I did know was that she was the wife - soon to be ex-wife - of Salman Rushdie, and had been living for almost two years under police protection after Rushdie had been sentenced to death in a fatwa by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.

She had a new novel, John Dollar, which had been published the previous year, though she'd only been able to publicize it after months in hiding. The Rushdie affair was a deeply uneasy intimation of a world yet to come, and I suppose I wanted to get a portrait of Wiggins as someone very much part of a major news story. It would be a long time before I came to appreciate her as a writer, distinct from her then-husband (who I would much later interview and photograph - twice.)

Marianne Wiggins, Toronto, Oct.1990

I don't recall any visible security detail traveling with Wiggins when I met her at the Harbour Castle Hilton, in the little spot off the lobby where a generous skylight had created a pool of richly flattering light - discovered a couple of years previous when I'd shot Kathy Acker and Jay McInerney in the same spot. I faintly remember more than the usual number of handlers and publicists surrounding her, and that, despite all the attention she was getting for something that had little or nothing to do with her books, she was more than cooperative with me and my camera. She acted like a woman enjoying freedom of movement after being denied it for some time, or perhaps I'm just projecting.

I broke from habit with this shoot and shot much of it of Wiggins, seated in the centre of the little hotel lobby annex, full figure instead of in a close head shot. Perhaps I wanted to challenge myself; probably it was because she had nice legs (and knew it,) and featuring them wasn't the sort of thing you usually did with an author portrait.

Marianne Wiggins, Toronto, Oct.1990

Wiggins' marriage to Rushdie would officially end three years later, with no small amount of bad blood on his part at least. I've finally had a chance to read Wiggins, who has lived a much more quiet life since then, and now teaches writing in California. Photography and photographers feature regularly in her books, from Eveless Eden to Evidence of Things Unseen to The Shadow Catcher, which features Edward S. Curtis, the photographer who captured the last days of the Indian tribes living freely in the American West, as a main character. Her daughter, Lara Porzak, is a photographer.

Wiggins is a better writer than her famous ex-husband; her characters feel more vivid, her stories take startling, sometimes lurching turns and changes of pace that feel more like the writer was led there, and not dictated by the altered compass of an overriding idea, or their reputation for controversy. I have always liked these photos, but I don't think they ever left their contact sheet, and this is probably the first time they've been published anywhere.


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