Monday, August 16, 2010

The Face Behind the Cover of Cleopatra Rules!

When it came to the cover for CLEOPATRA RULES! my wonderful editor, Larry Rosler, and I struggled. Should it be illustrated? A photo of an ancient statue? A painting? "The cover has to tell the reader that this isn't an ordinary biography," Larry had said over and over again. "It has to match the voice."
     Fortunately, he came across the self-portrait of Canadian photographer Elizabeth Salib. We both knew instantly he had found the answer. The photo was arresting, challenging, and fierce--all the attributes of Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Egypt. Not everyone agreed at first, but thanks to the exceptional design work of Boyds Mill's art director, Tim Gillner, the decision was finally made: Salib's photo had to grace the cover.
     A student at the University of Toronto (with a double major in philosophy and english), Elizabeth is already an accomplished portrait artist. Check out her beautiful work at
     Elizabeth was kind enough to answer some questions about the photo we used and her artistic process. As you read, check out the many moods she evokes in her self-portraits, which I've sprinkled throughout the text:

1. What inspired you to photograph yourself in this way? A couple of weeks before I took the self portrait, I was having a discussion about photography with my cousin Matthew Langford, who also happens to be a photographer himself. We were going through a number of self portraits taken by different photographers, and after we each described what we liked about these, he briefly mentioned that my self portraits were different from all the ones we had seen because I had a subtly exotic look to me.
     About a week later, I went to New York City with my high school for our grad trip. I vaguely remember being in one of the street markets, and seeing the bracelet that I'm wearing in the picture. My thoughts automatically raced back to what Matt had told me, and I bought the bracelet with this photo shoot in mind. Once I got back home, I took nearly an hour and a half to do the make up (at that point I was really bad with it because I hadn't had much practice), and got about 100 shots within approximately 20 minutes. Out of those 100, I found 2 that I really liked, one being the image that's on the front cover. I posted the images on my Flickr account, dedicating the first to my cousin Matt who had a critical role in the creation of the image. You can find the image, as well as the other image that went with it, on my Flickr account here and here: , .
     Just for the record, my father is actually Egyptian, and my mother Lebanese, so that would explain away the "exotic look" that I have.

2. There is such a strength and fierceness in the expression (which I love!). Were you striving for that or was that something in you that the camera picked up? Ever since I began self portraiture, I always found it to be more about acting than anything else. At this stage in the game (when I took this self portrait), I was very bad with knowing what the images would turn out looking like, especially since I couldn't see through the viewfinder of the camera. These pictures were all taken by literally holding out a camera, pointing it to my face, and snapping away as many pictures as I could. I'd change angles and expressions with every frame, and then look through about 10 at a time, only deleting the ones that were really bad. So I was aware of my expressions, but that was nearly the only thing I could control. I had no idea what the final image would look like, and so getting any good shots was a stroke of luck. This also made trying to duplicate images nearly impossible, because I could never seem to get the same angle twice.

3. What is your background in photography? 
I have no educational background in photography. Everything I've done has been the result of hundreds of hours of practise, both with the camera and with Photoshop, and thousands of hours of viewing other people's photography, trying to find inspiration.
     I currently live in Toronto, and do portrait photography as a side business. I am doing a Philosophy specialist and English major at UofT, both completely unrelated topics to photography, and I'm hoping to get into graduate school for Philosophy.

4. What are your specialties? My specialties are self portraiture and portraiture. I love taking pictures of people, although I do at times take landscapes or architecture shots. I always feel like images without people pale in comparison to well done portraits, however. I love capturing emotions, personalities and moods. I think these three elements are what keep pictures of people fresh and unique.

5. How do you feel about your self-portrait being on the cover of CLEOPATRA RULES? Any reactions from friends and family? I've been excited since I got email about it! When I started photography the first thing I thought was that I'd absolutely love to have my photographs on the covers of books and CDs, so this is a dream come true. Although you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, I know that when a person doesn't know the title or author of a book, that really is the first thing that catches their attention. I've purchased books just because I've loved the front cover before. And being an English major, I have a deep appreciation for literature that makes me very humbled to be even such a small part of the publishing process.
     My friends and family have had mixed reactions. All are obviously excited for me, but a few have ventured to say, "Your face is on the front cover of a children's book? Isn't that kind of weird?" After I show them the picture and they realize that half my face is covered, making me virtually unidentifiable, they then become a little more comfortable with the idea. Even though I take many self portraits, I'm actually quite self conscious about other people seeing them, so the fact that this picture got chosen over others where my face can be seen a little more clearly makes me a little more comfortable, too.

Thanks Elizabeth for helping make Cleopatra Rules! really rock!


Unknown said...

It's a very striking cover indeed :) Interesting to know about the History of that image and see more of Elizabeth's work

cheers Vicky :)


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

VERY cool! What a talent!

Vicki Leon said...

What a wonderful idea, to tell the backstory of the cover photo on your blog...and a fascinating tale it turned out to be. Good work, Vic!

Sarah Campbell said...

I love hearing the stories of how covers came to be -- especially those that involve photographs. Thanks for sharing.
Also, thank you for the introduction to Elizabeth's work. Finding new talent to work with is always inspiring.

Tracy Barrett said...

It's a great cover! And isn't Tim Gillner great?

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks for posting, y'all! Elizabeth certainly is a talented artist. And to think, she does that on her "spare time" in between her double major of philosophy and English! Ah to be young again...