Layle Silbert (1913–2003) photographer and writer, was born in Chicago where her father was a journalist and editor for the city’s Yiddish press. She began composing poetry and literary essays in childhood, and remained devoted to the literary arts throughout her life. Following a career in social service, she transitioned to creative writing in the 1940s, going on to publish poetry and prose in numerous distinguished literary journals, anthologies, and books. Silbert first picked up a camera in the 1950s while living in Pakistan. “Then and there,” Silbert told Poets and Writers Magazine in 1990, “I fell in love with the human face.”
She continued to photograph friends and family after her return to the United States, and in the late 1960s Silbert discovered her passion for photographing fellow writers when she attended the founding meeting of the New York Poet’s Cooperative, camera in hand. She went on to photograph hundreds of writers from around the world. Her portraits have been widely published in books and national media, and exhibited in more than thirty one-woman shows in the United States, Ecaudor, and Mexico.
The photographs on display are a small sample of Silbert’s encounters with authors through the lens of her camera. Formal or informal, they hint at the life of the creative mind. Said Silbert, “I have this sense that I want to crawl inside their heads and under their skin. I discovered that for me, photographing writers is something like photographing family. Writers are my familiars.”
The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center