Apropos of the front cover of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, James Breig, a reader of this blog, writes with a query:
Impertinent question: Is the cover photo reversed (Armstrong’s pocket handkerchief is on the right side of his jacket)? If so, was it done deliberately by the photographer or book designer, or inadvertently?
My jaw dropped when I read this e-mail, and I immediately set to investigating. It turns out that the photograph in question, taken by Philippe Halsman in 1965, was in fact reproduced in reverse–both on the cover of Pops and on the Web site of Magnum Photos, which is where the book’s designer found it.
When I checked on Monday afternoon, I discovered that another Halsman photograph of Armstrong is reversed on the Magnum site. That one, however, was an easy catch: Armstrong is fingering his trumpet with his left hand, not his right. In the photo on the cover of Pops, by contrast, he has the horn tucked under his arm, and the only immediately obvious clue that the picture is reversed is, as the preternaturally sharp-eyed Mr. Breig noticed, the fact that his handkerchief is on the wrong side.
How could I possibly have let this goof get past me? Because I’m left-handed, I guess (but so is Mr. Breig–that one won’t work!). What amuses me most, however, is that until Monday, nobody had noticed it, including a number of Armstrong’s friends who read Pops in manuscript. That also includes Joe Muranyi, Armstrong’s last clarinet player, who knew him very, very well. I wrote Joe to tell him about it, and his reply made me smile: “It still looks very much like him. The pocket on the wrong side isn’t important–doesn’t bother me. The only thing that is wrong, when one looks and observes carefully, is that dent in his forehead. It was on the left side of his head!”
If Joe, who spent more time with Armstrong than anyone else I know, didn’t catch the mistake on his own, I think I can be forgiven for failing to notice it.
We will, needless to say, be correcting the inadvertent reversal of Philippe Halsman’s photograph on the cover of the paperback edition of Pops, which will be coming out in November. (This edition will also contain a number of very tiny corrections to the text, about which more in a future posting.) If you’re curious, the image on the right, which was sent to me yesterday afternoon by Mark Robinson, the designer of Pops, shows the front cover of the book with the photo reproduced correctly. Meanwhile, here’s the good news: if you bought the hardcover edition of Pops, you now own a collector’s item!
As for Mr. Breig, I hereby invite him to proofread my next book.