Focus on Playwrights: Portraits and Interviews, published this month by University of South Carolina Press, reveals the faces of over 90 playwrights through stunning Black and White photographic portraits and with 17 interviews including Edward Albee, Marsha Norman, and August Wilson. This is a unique investigation brought about by an award-winning photographic artist, Susan Johann. Her work has been featured in galleries and cultural centers throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, the Public Theater, Signature Theatre’s Pershing Square Center, and the Contemporary American Theater Festival and has graced the pages of magazines including the New York Times, Vogue, The New Yorker, American Theatre, and on innumerable book covers by Penguin Putnam and Simon & Schuster.
In 1989 Susan Johann was hired to photograph Christopher Durang for a magazine article about his play Naomi in Her Living Room. The playwright was known for his outrageous comedy, so Johann anticipated a session with a rather wild, young eccentric. To her surprise the man who came to her studio was mild mannered and buttoned down. Johann found this twist captivating, and it was then that this project was born. Over the next twenty years, she photographed more than ninety playwrights, including many winners of the Pulitzer Prize and other prestigious awards.
Johann photographed Wendy Wasserstein, Anna Deavere Smith, August Wilson, and Nilo Cruz in the weeks after they won the Pulitzer. Tony Kushner sat for his portrait between the productions of part 1 and part 2 of Angels in America. Eve Ensler came to Johann’s studio during the week she was previewing her famous one-woman show, The Vagina Monologues, and George C. Wolfe sat for Johann the morning after his play Spunk opened at the Public Theater.
Each playwright was photographed in Johann’s studio using the same type of film, a single light, and a plain backdrop, creating a portrait that captures and distills something essential—an intimate view. Her interviews explore the writers’ personal and creative journeys, including their inspirations, roadblocks, and obsessions, which influenced their work on paper and on the stage. Even those who know Edward Albee’s plays intimately, for example, may be surprised by his incisive wit and inimitable voice as revealed in his interview with Johann.
Suzan-Lori Parks * Tom Stoppard * David Hwang * Naomi Wallace * Wendy Wasserstein * Bill Irwin * Beth Henley * Joann Schenkar * Arthur Miller * Sarah Ruhl * Garrison Kanin * Christopher Shinn * Sidney Kingsley * Christopher Durang * Craig Lucas * Marsha Norman * Robert Patrick * Nicky Silver * Romulus Linney * George Abbott * August Wilson * A. R. Gurney
Advanced blurbs & reviews:
“Focus on Playwrights is Susan Johann’s magnificent collection of the great and greatest playwrights of our time. Johann’s portraits are remarkable and important works of art. They capture the spirit and soul of her subjects. Clearly, they trusted her, her camera and even her tape recorder! This book, like no other, captures a unique and historic literary history.”―Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, American documentary filmmaker and portrait photographer
“It’s not possible to read this book and not fall hard again with your favorite playwright, who is bound to be represented herein. Johann’s mastery of her art is as mysterious and inarguable as the mastery these play making magicians exercise in capturing the human soul in their work.”―Tim Sanford, artistic director, Playwrights Horizons
A preview of portraits can be found at Susan Johann’s website: http://www.susanjohann.com (portraits, playwrights)
Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press (June 14, 2016)