photography and Poetry

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by cliveh, Feb 13, 2012.

  1. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Oct 9, 2010
    35mm RF
    I have often thought how close photography is to poetry and have always appreciated how successfully elements of literature and prose can be illustrated by photography and is a good basis for a photographic or poetic project. I found this link that may be of interest.
    Do others have thoughts about this?
  2. ntenny

    ntenny Subscriber

    Mar 5, 2008
    San Diego, C
    Multi Format
    The essay's interesting, although it's pretty specific to a particular aesthetic---sort of Romantic-Transcendentalist, as you'd expect from the quote from Wordsworth---in both poetry and photography. Within that scope it makes sense; there's an approach to either art that prioritizes personal ecstatic revelation, what the Transcendentalists would have identified as God-in-the-world. A lot of landscape photographers seem to inhabit this philosophical territory.

    But there are lots of alternative photographic aesthetics, of course, and some of them seem easier to "map" to poetry than others. Both Nan Goldin and Weegee seem to be in somewhat the same aesthetic territory as the Beat poets, for instance, but what's a poetic analog to the New Topographics? In the other direction, is there an easy photographic comparison to the highly stylized, structured verse of a Pope or a Tennyson, or to the classical epics?

    Another interesting open-ended question, to be sure.

  3. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Sep 14, 2004
    Multi Format
    Three words... William Carlos Williams. Love his poems, the red wheel barrel feels like a photograph to me.

    The relationship between poetry and photography is potent, more so, than the relationship between photo and, say, painting or even drawing. I often find poems that resonate with the pictures I make, and I'm sure if you put your mind to it, there are poems that would resonate with the new topographics. I've been enamored of Emily Dickinson of late, and have pinched a line from a Dylan Thomas poem for the title of a series of pictures. It may not resonate with ALL types of photography, but an awful lot of it! Great topic.
  4. coigach

    coigach Member

    May 23, 2006
    Multi Format
    I too find poetry a natural match for photography. For me, the rhythms and imagery of poetry can draw out elements of some photographs.

    I'm in the final stages of a long-term project I hope to get published as a book - b+w photographs of the Highlands of Scotland, matched to c20th and contemporary Scottish poetry. The poetry forms a 'second skin' and to me has become inseperable from the physical rocks and mountains. Here's a sample:
    Sequencing a large project with text is fascinating (and difficult!) - the images should have an internal rhythm and flow on their own terms, but should also mix with the thinking and structure of the texts themselves.

    This is a great thread - I'm looking forward to following other people's thoughts on this subject.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 13, 2012
  5. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Subscriber

    Jul 1, 2008
    Geelong & Richmond AUS
    Medium Format
    The peoetry of Australian bush poet/balladeer Henry Clarence Kendall was used on many occasions in the early 2000s when I had depression. Despite being a trainwreck himself and prone to fits of deep melancholy, Kendall wrote with a startling clarity and depth of word of great metrical march and beat, describing scenes in his imagination as if he was there. This poem of "The Waterfall" is so well described as you can picture the scene in the mind and go as far as to frame it! This, along with many others, has me forming mental images of events in places I've been and putting his verse to various scenes. Sometimes I have been profoundly moved by many of this other works. So the link between verse and photography can be very potent indeed, but it also requires a vivid imagination to put verse to time and place with corresponding emotive impact. Describing a waterfall like Kendall has in the context ois a masterstroke of writing, carefully entwining love and despair in a dramatic scene. Lots of Kendall's writing can work well carried to photography as a series of images illustrating mood e.g. high-key monochrome or cross-processed colour. I tried this myself in 2003 I think with an entirely different poem of uplifting rhythm and rhyme, "Bell Birds".

    The song of the Water,
    Doomed ever to roam;
    A beautiful Exile,
    Afar from its home...

    The cliffs on the mountain,
    The grand and the grey,
    They took the bright creature
    And hurled it away!

    I heard the wild downfall,
    And knew it must spill
    A passionate heart out
    All over the hill.

    Oh! was it a daughter
    Of sorrow and sin,
    That they threw it so madly
    Down into the lynn?

    And listen, my Sister,
    For this is the song
    The Waterfall taught me
    The ridges among:—

    “Oh where are the shadows
    So cool and so sweet
    And the rocks,” saith the water,
    “With the moss on their feet?

    “Oh where are my playmates
    The wind and the flowers—
    The golden and purple—
    Of honey-sweet bowers,

    “Mine eyes have been blinded
    Because of the sun;
    And moaning and moaning
    I listlessly run!

    These hills are so flinty!—
    Ah! tell me, dark Earth,
    What valley leads back to
    The place of my birth?—

    What valley leads up to
    The haunts where a child
    Of caverns I sported,
    The free and the wild?

    “There lift me,”—it crieth,
    “I faint from the heat;
    With a sob for the shadows
    So cool and so sweet.”

    Ye rocks, that look over
    With never a tear,
    I yearn for one half of
    The wasted love here!

    My sister so wistful
    You know I believe
    Like a child, for the mountains
    This water doth grieve.

    Ah, you with the blue eyes
    And golden-brown hair,
    Come closer and closer
    And truly declare:—

    Supposing a darling
    Once happened to sin,
    In a passionate space,—
    Would you carry her in;

    If your fathers and mothers,
    The grand and the grey,
    Had taken the weak one
    And hurled her away?
  6. John Austin

    John Austin Member

    Oct 2, 2010
    Southern For
    Large Format
    One of my first major photographic influences was Kenneth White's "The Most Difficult Area" I was given in 1971 - This book included a very direct lesson in photography in a poem about Sesshu Toyo

    "After years in China
    Emptiness achieved
    He painted
    With the fewest of strokes
    The hardness of rocks
    The twistedness of roots

    I soon after got my first 5x4" camera

    There are many other poems in KW's work which deal with simplicity - Another influential poet for me is AR Ammons

    I presume coignach will be considering KW

  7. OP

    cliveh Subscriber

    Oct 9, 2010
    35mm RF
    A few years ago I had a student who illustrated part of “Alice in Wonderland” as a photographic project. I just wish Charles Dobson could have seen the imagery.
  8. keithwms

    keithwms Member

    Oct 14, 2006
    Multi Format
    I definitely see a parallel between the two, Clive. At least, for me, short-form writing, piano, sketching, and photography all seem to scratch similar itches. I suppose what all of those have in common is enjoyment of the act of original composition, the willingness to refine that composition, and the desire to communicate that refined statement.
  9. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

    Apr 24, 2005
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Multi Format
    I saw the thread title and immediately thought of John Nanian's (jnanian) APUG gallery - including in particular his descriptions that accompany his photographs.

    Of course John's posts make me think of e. e. cummings :smile:.
  10. Shawn Rahman

    Shawn Rahman Subscriber

    Sep 10, 2005
    Whitestone, NY
    Multi Format
    I can think of one published example where the marriage between poetry and photographs has worked well: The great photographer Robert Adams has published his photographs together with the poetry of William Stafford.

    Adams' book Listening to the River comes to mind. From the description of the book on Amazon: "Adams has chosen twelve poems by William Stafford to accompany the pictures. Both photographer and poet observe a practice of quiet in the out-of-doors, and both discover there a promise."

    The book is out of print, but often pops up on ebay and on Amazon Marketplace. Here's the current Amazon link:
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Jun 21, 2003
    Multi Format
    images and imagery go hand in hand.
    it is almost like there is supposed to be text with a photograph
    sometimes to illustrate what it is, or what it might be, i don't know ...
    i enjoy writing verse to accompany my photographs
    it is like, automatic writing and automatic photography ...
    and i am a HGE fan of eec ... matt - you hit the nail on the head (im a big fan)

    great thread clive!
  12. bsdunek

    bsdunek Subscriber

    Jul 27, 2006
    Multi Format
    Poetry and music are both arts. Photographic art certainly relates to both, as does other arts such as painting sculpture. etc. I'm not sure if it is abstract, or just seeing/feeling deeper into everyday life. In any case, life without the arts would be a dull place.
  13. Toffle

    Toffle Member

    Mar 27, 2007
    Point Pelee,
    Multi Format
    For many artists, in their medium, their art must be kept pure. They can entertain no crossover to sully their vision. It seems odd to me, but perhaps they are thinking of the singularity of their focus. For me, the different arts evoke and echo in each other. This small selection from my website ties in music, poetry and photography. For me, they click. (no pun intended)