Thursday, May 10, 2012

Genial Joe

On Monday afternoon, an hour before the book-signing reception for At Home with Flannery O'Connor, we had what was certainly the biggest storm here in months. It was raining so hard you couldn't see across the driveway.  By 4:00 things lightened up a bit, and we ended up having a pretty decent turnout for the event.  In addition to the editors, there were others on hand, too, who played a part in the book's creation.  One of these was photographer Joe McTyre.  As I was working in the gift shop, Mr. McTyre came up and shared some of his memories of coming out to Andalusia fifty years ago to photograph Flannery for a feature story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Sunday magazine.  Before continuing, I should mention that this was Mr. McTyre's first visit to the farm since that day in 1962, and I think it's fairly safe to say that he was dazzled by the experience.  While other guests mixed and mingled, Mr. McTyre was walking around enveloped in memories half a century old.  From the gift shop where I was busy selling books, I looked out onto the front yard and saw him, camera around his neck, looking around for the best place to take a picture of the house.  When he came back inside, he and his wife, Judy, stopped by again and chatted with me. He said that the day he came out here to take pictures of the famous author stands out in his memory so clearly.  He spent the whole day at Andalusia taking pictures of Flannery who, he said, was most congenial.  It was only after he and the reporter who accompanied him left that he learned that O'Connor had very little tolerance for news folks and, as a rule, shunned the publicity.  The pictures that Joe McTyre took that day are some of the most familiar to fans of Flannery O'Connor.  There is the famous photo of her standing on the front porch steps that adorns the dust jacket on The Habit of Being.  But Mr. McTyre told me his favorite one of all was the picture he took of Flannery sitting on the living room sofa with her self-portrait.  He said he didn't even pose her for the shot.  He just asked her to sit there and quickly snapped off what turned out to be such a self-revelatory photo.  After Flannery died in 1964, Mr. McTyre sent her mother all the proofs he had taken that day.  Needless to say, Mrs. O'Connor was grateful for his thoughtfulness and generosity. By his own admission, Mr. McTyre will always remember his visit to Andalusia in 1962. I will not soon forget his return visit in 2012.
- Mark                                            

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