A poet working with light: Literary photographer Beowulf Sheehan shares images from new book

Beowulf Sheehan

By Shane Donglasan

According to writer Gregory Pardlo, one of the most difficult characters for authors to capture is themselves, yet photographer Beowulf Sheehan has made a career of creating intimate portraits that capture the essence of authors, journalists, playwrights and poets in a way that reveals their hidden strengths and vulnerabilities.

Sheehan’s work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, the Dostoevsky Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He’s also been published in Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Newsweek and Vogue.

Sheehan spoke at New College of Florida’s Sudakoff Conference Center Dec. 12 as part of a tour for his first book, “Author: The Portraits of Beowulf Sheehan.” The book is a collection of more than 200 photographs of distinguished writers from around the world, including Ian McEwan, Jesmyn Ward, Roxane Gay and Neil Gaiman.

Sheehan shared photographs from his book, which was published this October. He discussed the stories behind the images he captured, such as those of Joe Biden, J.K. Rowling and Elie Wiesel. Afterwards, student Isaiah Alejo conducted a question-and-answer session with Sheehan, who talked about building a rapport with his subjects, photographs as physical objects in the digital age and how he feels about being photographed himself.

“I ask every subject how they want to be portrayed,” Sheehan said. “Being photographed can feel like one of the most unnatural things, so the goal is focusing on the subject and speaking to the strengths of their experiences.”

The event was organized by New College Writer-in-Residence Sarah Gerard, who knew Sheehan through New York City’s literary community.

“The book features Sheehan’s art, but it is also a memoir filled with a personal essay about his craft,” Gerard said. “Our students in the audience are interested in playwriting and fiction and others are studying journalism and photography, so they got the opportunity to ask him what it’s like to work in different mediums and learn about about the arc of his career.”

— Shane Donglasan is a Marketing Writer/Project Coordinator at New College of Florida.

Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 700 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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