Photographer Marie Julliard explains book cover shot: ‘Once the picture was taken … it was this one and no other.’
(PARIS, France) The front cover and the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) make a book tangible.And now that Civil Rights Baby has both, four years of writing is going to put this Hidden Figures-meets-Broadcast News story out for wide consumption.
Photographer Marie Julliard took the cover photograph in the spring of 2014. I recently asked her what she recalls about the photo shoot from five years ago.
« I wished that in one look, [Nita] could reveal who she was, and what she had to say to the world. I remember very well that morning in Paris. It was a rainy day, with mild drizzle that is characteristic of the season in the capital. The clouds were heavy and threatening. And yet, this time was ideal for taking portraits. The colors would be all the more luminous, and the light all the more soft,” said Marie.
« Once the picture was taken, we agreed. It was this one and no other. » (The eBook of Civil Rights Baby is available now.)
Marie took many shots with me and my purple beret, as I had requested. And at the Eiffel Tower, as I had requested. But you will find neither on the cover of the book. The award-winning photographer advised me to shed the props people routinely rely on to illustrate France. Following her sage counsel, I took off the beret and ambled with her along the Left Bank.
In scouting for just the right place, a swanky sidewalk cafe, well-situated between Paris’ 8th and 16th arrondissements, caught our attention.
Explained Marie: « I wanted a natural pose in an environment she knows well, so that she would feel comfortable. A Parisian cafe was a great place for that. A place to define where she lives now. » We can see the Parisian bistro chairs and characteristic round tables in the background of the picture.
The portrait that is now the book cover jumped off the contact sheet Marie gave me a few weeks later.
Said Marie: « The people were there, sitting around chatting, having breakfast, reading the paper …. but Nita was there, in the middle of this moving world, calm, concentrated, natural. Like a powerful, mighty woman.”
She continued: « The gesture was perfect. Not too much, just enough. By analyzing this photograph, you can not really define who she really is. A journalist? A teacher? A politician? No doubt someone knowing how to listen, someone cultivated. Maybe a mix of all this.”
“No other choice,” said my father Roosevelt Wiggins, who viewed four of Marie’s other photos that were in competition for the cover. For him, as it was for Marie, there was no real competition.
At the end of the photo shoot, the ESJ-Paris graduate and I, having no reason to waste a mild Paris morning near the Seine, took a pause together. A traditionally French pause. My former student and I delighted in ordering two café crèmes and homemade financiers aux amandes (moist, buttery almond cake).
Marie also took the author photograph (at left) for the back of Civil Rights Baby. The morning after a rainstorm in Clermont-Ferrand, France, in 2017, she captured my easy-going smile and my au naturel, humidity-altered hairstyle. I’m wearing a sunflower yellow dress to signify mental fluidity. Those elements convey my acceptance of what’s unseen and coming from around the next corner. The centuries-old stone wall backdrop represents my resolve—my promise I consistently make to myself—to be straightforward in dealing with the people around me.
Someday I’ll Make it to BookTV (Description is below and on Amazon)
I love the cover design done by Casa-Express Paris, my publisher. The layout resembles the reflective mood of celebrated writer Ralph Ellison on the cover of his short-stories collection called Flying Home and Other Stories. He holds his eyeglasses in hand, as I do. This matters much to me because Toulouse, France-based early reader Angela Shaw compared Civil Rights Baby to the Ellison masterpiece Invisible Man.
Angela’s background as staff attorney for both the NAACP and the FCC delivered an extra wallop to her comments. It rocked my world to read her words in 2016:
“Civil Rights Baby has given me more heartache than I care to endure. In the face of the passage about the hotel towels, I suddenly burst into tears … This passage reminds me of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Manand Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis … as I have friends who are also faced with the challenge that [Nita has] faced,” she wrote.
The text on the back of the book explains that I expose « the misdeeds of the people who run TV newsrooms. As the firings of broadcasting executives in 2017 and 2018 illustrate, American newsrooms have been private chambers of hell for many female broadcasters »… and I explore how the Civil Rights Act, which passed 56 days after my birth, succeeds and fails in my life.
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An RTNDF award recipient in 1989, Nita writes about what she witnessed off- camera during her 21 years in the American television industry. She currently teaches masters journalism at ESJ-Paris and at ESJ-Paris Grand Lille in Lille, France. More at nitawiggins.com and follow her @MsNitaWiggins #marie