The aim of this exercise (and Assignment Two) is to encourage you to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it..
Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.
Start by reading the poem a few times (perhaps aloud) and making a note of the feelings and ideas it promotes, how you respond to it, what it means to you and the mental images it raises in your mind. Next, think about how you’re going to interpret this visually and note down your ideas in your learning log.
You may choose to develop this idea into creating a short series of images reflecting your personal response to the poem (or another poem). Write some reflective notes about how you would move the above exercise on.
The number of pictures you choose to produce for the exercises and assignments in this course, including this one, is up to you. Try to keep in mind the following tips for knowing when you have done enough/not done enough:
- Are the images repeating themselves? Are there three versions of the same picture for example? Can you take two out?
- Does each image give a different point of view or emphasise a point you want to make?
- Do the images sit well together visually?
- Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help?
I began this exercise by looking at the book Photographs and Poems. There is no introduction in this book but simply consists of poems and a series of black and white images printed singularly on the pages, there are blank pages between some of them and the poems reside on their own pages. The images are mostly abstract, with emphasis on the contrast and quite often a close up of part of subject (for instance, a flower).
Quite how the images and the text tie into one another as I look through the book remains obscure, other than they both seem to be focused on mostly natural elements, such as flowers, the seasons, nature etc. and also shots of mirrors combined with poems about reflection. However, for me, it does work well. The pictures are quiet in their beauty and the contrasting elements within them make your eyes linger on the various shapes. The poems are like narratives of thought as they happen. This book is a very good example of what this exercise hopes to achieve. (1)
With this in mind, I went away to find a poem that resonated with me. I remembered being given a poem, written on a small card just after my sister had died.
Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die. (2)
I began, as suggested to read the poem several times, immediately the feelings of sadness and grief enveloped me. This poem was linked to possibly the saddest event from my past and the hurt and loss remains, although now dulled and without the rawness and despair I felt at the time, 16 years ago. I started a journey within for many years following my sisters death, regarding my faith, beliefs and who I was. At the time, this poem was a source of comfort for me.
My decision was then to regard what I would concentrate on. The brief was to give a sense of the feeling and it’s essence as opposed to an obvious interpretation. The descriptive elements of this poem could be well told through a series of obvious images, but it isn’t necessarily these things that I envision, when I read the poem. I remember, at the time I was left to ponder what remained of my sister. Did her spirit live on somewhere? Was it only the memories, that with time, become foggy and distant? How would I continue on? Would I forget her? Why was life so unfair?
Following death, there is a void left behind, a sort of hole in ones life and something appears to be missing. This is accompanied by a kind of silence that is deafening, as you grieve. Grief comes with a type of loneliness even when you have others around you grieving too, it is very much an internal process that cannot be well diagramed or described since it is a very personal journey.
This is what I felt about my sister dying. the actual event and what I went through. The poem, however made me feel hope and a quiet comfort that your loved one still lives on in some way. There are feelings of nostalgia and reminiscence combined with the fact that no matter where you go, things will continue to remind you that this person existed once, even though it is a truly sad time.
- The sense of space and the emptiness in that space. – Photographing spacious areas devoid of people.
- The smaller details that are often overlooked. The comparison between the larger picture and the smaller details.
- The emptiness of a graveyard and how life really isn’t immediately apparent when you visit a graveside.
- A feeling of hope, sunshine through the clouds, signs of life, reminders that life continues in spite of death.
I laid down some ideas but still, I could not pinpoint how exactly I was going to portray this, I thought it best to just pick up my camera and see where it took me.
I played the poem narrated on repeat through headphones as I began to take photos. I started at home with my sister’s childhood teddy that I keep on my bed, but it didn’t seem to work, or fit. I found my most inspiration in an 11th Century Church Graveyard. It made me think how empty and lonely these places are and exactly what the poem talks about “I am not there, I do not sleep…” But as I walked around I noticed signs of life, in the flowers and the trees, I noticed these little details through the quiet of the graveyard.
When I felt I had been to enough places I noticed that I had taken quite a lot of photographs for this exercise, which I felt was due to bring unsure on an exact idea of how to portray this, I also don’t believe that if I had carried out more preparation beforehand, the number would have been any different. Capturing something that isn’t obvious, is more difficult than when I have an exact subject in mind.
I then narrowed it down to the photos I liked the best for the theme.
I thought about colour and decided that for this project, the photos would be converted to black and white. My reason for this was to represent the solemness of the poem, the nostalgia (colour is mostly unimportant in memories) and death (as if the colour were taken from life). I shortlisted again and numbered them:
I thought about the questions to ask myself as suggested. Firstly are the images repeating themselves? The two tree ones, yes so I decided to keep number 6 and remove number 8. There were also 2 crosses, I kept number 1 and removed number 5
Thinking about how the images fit together visually meant I had to remove number 14 of the sea and number 12 of the raindrops. I also didn’t feel that number 10 worked as the rest were more closely concentrated on a visual aspect and this was too busy.
Did I give enough information? I believe I did, I could have visually represented all of the descriptions in the poem, but that wouldn’t encapsulate the essence, rather it would tell the entire story, which wasn’t my aim. I felt with the remaining 9 worked well to visualise the little things you notice when sitting in a graveyard by yourself. I noticed that number 2, 4 and 11 all had flowers represented and whilst this could be considered a repeat, I chose to keep them in, since it represented the life you find in a graveyard and in nature, to emphasise this point.
I wanted to put them in the best order which I felt would flow. I decided the last was to be 13 and changed a few around to fit more with the flow of the poem.
Moving the Project On:
In the same vein as some of the other projects I’ve looked at for Part 2 such as Sophie Calle’s Work (3) I would like to perhaps add a narrative of the poem with music. It could potentially grow from there, perhaps looking at grief in a more in depth way with this poem as the starting point, with other people’s stories and pictures too.
- Montgomery Barron, J. & Graham, J. Photographs & Poems Scalo. 1998
- Frye, M.E. Poem – Do not Stand at My Grave and Weep. 1932 https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/do-not-stand-by-my-grave-and-weep-by-mary-elizabeth-frye
- Research – Sophie Calle & Sophy Rickett http://foxleyphotodegree.co.uk/research-sophie-calle-sophy-rickett/