Beowulf Sheehan

Literature and photography, like all arts, are interdependent: Words set the scene. They tell you name, place, time, action, emotion, climate, and texture, but your mind’s eye puts meat on those bones, fashions the image from text. Photography does the same – but in reverse. Both invite the action and creativity of the mind’s eye to complete the story. Find the viewer’s place in it. Form a response to it.


Author: The portraits of beowulf sheehan

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Beowulf Sheehan is a poet, working in light.
— George Saunders
Beowulf Sheehan reveals authors pictured in that twilight place between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us, and in every perfect shot he takes, his love for words and books and the people who make them shows through.
— Neil Gaiman
Beowulf is a visionary artist, and his work is beautiful and moving and revelatory. Like all great artists, he has the ability to see into and through his subject, and then to reveal the hidden strengths and vulnerabilities of those subjects in his portraiture. Each portrait will open a window for you to see in new ways, with new clarity, new perception.
— Jesmyn Ward

For better than the last decade, photographer Beowulf Sheehan has celebrated the vitality of literature through his portraiture of its luminaries and its emergent talents from across the globe.  Author: The Portraits of Beowulf Sheehan (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2018) is his forthcoming collection of select images from his journey, featuring 200 historians, journalists, novelists, playwrights, and poets from 35 countries.

Sheehan’s images seek to show the person behind the persona, to share the humanity of the artist of letters.  Just as metaphor is a powerful device in literature, the same holds true for Beowulf’s photographs. When an environment helps to tell the story of the storyteller, it appears with the writer, both broadly lit, connecting the two.  For many of us our journeys are better worn, however, on our faces and bodies. Many voices speak volumes with theirs. Beowulf Sheehan sees those writers with a minimal light and clean background, asking the viewer to see the subject’s journey in the line of a body, the turn of a smile, the cast of a gaze.

To Beowulf Sheehan’s vision, Salman Rushdie writes in his foreword to Author, “Writers are not the easiest of subjects for a photographer.  Many of us are uneasy in front of a camera lens, seeing ourselves as observers, not the observed…. Beowulf’s gentle ease soothes even the toughest literary spirits.” In his introduction he shares that writers, as he sees them, “reflect and help shape societies and cultures, calling attention to their ills and dangers, celebrating their wonders and triumphs.  They are you. Me. Us. And they are beautiful.” However compelling a single image in Author might be, the cumulative effect of the body of work is twofold:  Author calls attention to the importance of art and artists in our world today, and it illustrates the diverse, inclusive community of which we are all a part.

Author is also Beowulf Sheehan’s “Thank you” to the literary community. The work will be a partial fundraiser for BookUp, a program of the National Book Foundation to inspire reading by young people in challenged communities across the US. Vignettes:  Portraits of Writers from and Beyond the Pages of Author: The Portraits of Beowulf Sheehan is on exhibit at the new Center for Fiction in heart of the arts district of Brooklyn.  Prints of the exhibited work and of portraits published in Author are for sale, with proceeds benefitting the Center's KidsRead and KidsWrite programs.



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