[a guest post by our erstwhile friend & former colleague, Soffi Stiassni]
The New Yorker’s legacy of cartoon and caricature is not limited to anecdotal fodder about the Berkshires. In the March 9th Life and Letters feature on David Foster Wallace the eulogized writer is remembered with words by D. T. Max, and an eloquent portrait by Philip Burke. This frontal facing portrait is a caricature of photographer Nancy Crampton’s iconic shot of Wallace, featured in her book, “Writers: Photographs.” The book is a compilation of portraits and accompanying text from a wide array of novelists, poets, and people of the pen, from Lorrie Moore to Chinua Achebe. Sitters are pictured with pets (George Plimpton with cat and Cheever with dog), with cigarette (WH Auden and Anne Sexton), in the country and about town, and in several cases, seated before a rather dour gray studio backdrop, reminiscent of a high school yearbook photos. Wallace is one of the writers photographed against this unceremonious backdrop; he sits, arms crossed, backwards in the wooden chair, and dons a cut off Pomona College sweatshirt and the scratchy beginnings of a beard. He is sans infamous bandanna, which Burke chose to include in his rendering. To sit for a yearbook photo, particularly a senior portrait, can be the worry of an entire August. Though these photos often make their way to living room mantels and family mailers, they are very much the most public image one presents to themselves. Quite different than a candid snapshot which might accidentally reveal latent character, the formal posed portrait is a presentation deliberately selected by the sitter for the benefit of the viewer.