Lake Forest College Presents Laura Wilson’s The Writers

By Judy Carmack Bross



“I got impatient seeing these too small portraits of authors on dust jackets, probably taken by friends. They didn’t reveal anything about the author. I decided to do not only portraits but also ones showing where they live and work.”  Laura Wilson, author of The Writers:Portraits, whose exhibition appears at Lake Forest College now through early November.

Margaret Atwood  Toronto, Canada

Tom Stoppard   London, England

Laura Wilson, author of six books on photographs with revealing text including Avedon at Work about Richard Avedon who gave her first job as a photographer, will be at Lake Forest College October 18 for a reception celebrating 40 of her stunning photographs of influential photographers including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David McCullough, Louise Erdrich, Tom Stoppard, among many others on display.   Immersing herself in each writer’s own personal setting, Wilson reveals the details that have inspired their literary masterworks.

Richard Ford East Boothbay, Maine


Clearly, Wilson chose the most distinguished contemporary writers for her book, with three Nobel Prize winners and recipients of the Booker Prize, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize and others.  The Writers took 12 years to complete, but Wilson says that this worked in her favor.  “It was very beneficial that I took a long time. Some writers were very resistant at first and said no.  Later they said yes.”

Carlos Fuentes Mexico City, Mexico

Ta-Nehisi Coates   Brooklyn, New York

“I travelled many places—to Mexico City, London, Dublin and Canada.  Some of the authors live alone by the sea, others in cities, some in very remote places. Ian McEwan lives in a grand house in Gloucestershire, Jim Harrison lived in the wild terrain near Nogales, Arizona.  I wanted to see them in their own settings which told me much about the authors,” Wilson said. “In my book I devote five to eight pages on each author.”

David McCullough West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard

When Wilson’s exhibition opened at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas her good friends and Lake Forest College leaders Mimi and Bob Murley, who serves on the Board of Trustees, asked if she would consider bringing at least part of the show to Lake Forest. “There are 180 photos in the Ranson Center exhibit, and we have 40 in the Lake Forest College show,” Wilson, who will also be teaching two courses while on campus–one on collecting and the other on contemporary art–said.  “I so admire Mimi’s lively mind and she is such a good reader.  When she said there was a gallery available and they would like to bring it to Lake Cook, I was delighted.”

Mimi Murley told us: “We both have homes on Lake Winnipesaukee and we met while paddle boarding. I think she is  the most authentic person.  When we went to Dallas for her book-signing event we asked if she would ever show her photographs at the College. What a stroke of good luck that she agreed. The book is extraordinary.  That she will actually spend time here sharing her insight with students, faculty and guests is terrific.”

Murley spoke of the importance of Lake Forest College as a community resource.  “Laura’s exhibition says that we are attracting the very best to our campus.  We are recognized in the US News and World Report as the 24th top university. That is a testimony to the high quality of excellence at the school.”

Cormac McCarthy and friends Santa Fe, New Mexico

Wilson, the mother to actors Owen, Luke, and Andrew Wilson, grew up taking photos in southern Massachusetts, and became fascinated with the photo essays that ran in Life magazine in the 1950s and with the captivating work of World War II photographers like Robert Capa and Robert Frank. 

“I loved photography all my life, and I guess I always knew what good photography was from my exposure as a child to the photographers for Life.  I would wait eagerly for the magazine to arrive each Friday,” she said. “I loved the immediate nature.  I always had a family camera but given a 35 millimeter at one point.  I learned that a good camera was a tool for seeing and I began to develop my own eye.  Photos are very revealing, and with a thoughtful eye a lot can be learned.”

Wilson, who has photographed so many different worlds—politics, fashion, Hollywood—feels that writers are favorites to photograph.

“They, above any other group, have more calmness and a sense of who they are. They reach within themselves and express through their faces,” Wilson said.  “We all have our ‘picture faces’ that we show to the camera, but I feel I got more.”

Wilson feels that she developed a rapport with her 38 subjects.  She only knew one writer, the two-time Pulitzer and National Book winner David McCullough who died last year. “I knew David very well, and it was a privilege to visit him at his home on Martha’s Vineyard.  There was such a strong family component in his life with his wife, Rosalie,” she said. “I liked them all and must say I have something in common with many of them:  we are all a little prickly.”

David McCullough celebrates his biography of Harry Truman with his family.

Mimi Murley says that Wilson’s McCullough photos are her favorites.  “David McCullough was a contemporary of my mother’s in Philadelphia and my husband very kindly gave me two of his portraits.  His works are so highly respected, he will always be one of my favorite authors.”

Haruki Murakami Oahu, Hawaii

Russell Banks Miami, Florida

Laura Wilson’s photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and London’s Sunday Times Magazine, among others.

She is currently working on a book about movie making, which will include behind-the-scenes shots of the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men,” and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and The French Express, both featuring her son Owen Wilson.

“The Writers” will be on exhibit at the College’s Sonnenschein and Albright Galleries until early November.  Gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-5 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 PM.  Or by appointment: (847)-735-5194 or

Photographs by Laura Wilson