Portrait photograph of T.S.Eliot. 1955.

[New York] . 1955.

Signed by Eliot in the bottom right corner.
Black and white bromide print showing Eliot seated with his right hand on his hip and his left hand holding the handle of his umbrella. With his head slightly at an angle, piercing eyes, round glasses and his mouth ever so slightly open, he is at his most owlish and unknowable. One senses a Delphic apercu about to drop from his lips. Fitting then that this photograph appears on the dustjacket of the Harcourt Brace edition of the Complete Poems and Plays. 1955 also marked the year that Eliot's relationship with his secretary, Valerie Fletcher, began to develop into something deeper although it was not easy. As Eliot complained to Mary Trevelyan, "I can't get to know her at all, she shuts up like a clam." So perhaps this photograph shows Eliot in the midst of this huge shift in his inner life. It certainly seems to capture of Eliot's multitudes.
Kay Bell, it is said, took up photography as a dare: in 1943, she was working as an associate editor for Vogue in New York when an art director gave her a camera and suggested she give it a go. Two years later she had her own studio where she "produced fashion photographs and portraits that are marked by their elegance and informality" (NPG). She was married to the publisher Eugene Reynal (who was Bob Giroux's boss at Harcourt Brace and now best known for dismissing the manuscript of The Catcher in the Rye because "It's about a preppie, isn't it?") and through him met and photographed many writers. This photograph must have been taken just before Bob Giroux left Harcourt Brace for Farrar Straus, taking Eliot with him. Bell said that she tended to photograph them "after lunch" in the hope of catching them slightly off-guard although one senses that, for the ascetic Eliot, there was never an "after lunch".

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