If Delta Dawn, an elite New York society photographer, doesn’t see beauty, she creates it, as well as her own version of reality. A wiz with photo editing tools, she can create the scenes she wants to convey. A scowling child? No problem, she can turn that into an adoring smile. A cold and aloof family? There are ways to manipulate the bodies in the pictures she takes to bring them closer together, soften their stiffness, and turn them into a lovely and loving family to be envied.
But that envy overtakes Dawn in "The Photographer," Mary Dixie Carter’s mystery-thriller, when she is hired to do a photo shoot of successful architects Amelia and Fritz Straub and their 11-year-old daughter, Natalie. A catty observer, Dawn quickly sums up situations — and others — quickly.
Amelia, she quickly notes when they first meet, despite being striking with a magnetic personality, isn’t as pretty as she is. Dawn immediately prices Amelia’s Montcler coat as costing more than $2,000. Then there’s Amelia’s handsome husband with his amazing green eyes. And let’s not forget their wonderful house.
Seduced by what she sees, Dawn immediately sets about immersing herself into their life, volunteering to babysit. She soon has access to the house — drinking their wine, bathing in their tub, becoming good friends with Amelia and sending out seductive vibes to Fritz.
“Several years back, I hired a photographer to take pictures of my two children,” Carter wrote in answer to questions I emailed to her. “The pictures came back, and they were beautiful, but my children’s eyes in the photos were cobalt blue, not their actual color. ‘I want my children’s eyes to be their real color,’ I said. She responded: ‘There is no real color.’ That sentence stuck with me. I started to think about the psychology behind that idea: There's no real color, there's no real anything. Delta Dawn doesn't feel restricted to the reality of the situation. She alters an image to make it what she needs it to be.”
This is the first book for Carter, who graduated from Harvard with honors and previously worked as an actress. Though she says she’s not a good photographer, she took classes in both photography and photo editing while writing the book.
“I learned enough so that I understand some of the basic concepts,” she says. “I did a good deal of research on photo editing and the various ways in which one can alter pictures of people.”
When it came to her characters, Carter let them evolve as she wrote, including Dawn.
“I didn't want her to edit herself,” she says. "I wanted her to go as far as possible.”