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 consider myself lucky to live in a house where poetry is an important feature for my wife and my daughters lives. The challenge I had however was selecting a poem to use for this exercise from the many that were available. I was also mindful of the need to choose something that would test the ideas being explored in this section of the course and that would allow for a suitable exercise. For a variety of reasons that it would take too long to describe I eventually settled on a work by a less well known war poet that had a very personal link to my family. I was also pondering and planning the exercise in my head as the 100th anniversary of the Somme arrived.
The poem I used is found in a small green book that is a treasured possession of my wife.
‘Verse and Prose in Peace and War’ by William Noel Hodgson is not a well known book and there is much that I could write about how only a handful of war poets work ended up in general circulation, but that is perhaps for a different course! That said it did influence how I set about making the images of the exercise, indeed the notion of the post Great War establishment harvesting a few from the many became a central theme to the work of the exercise.
This small volume of poetry and prose was given to my wife by her mother, who had been given it by her mother. And given to her by her mother. Passed down through generations of daughters. Originally given to my wife’s great Grandmother by the father of the author as a christmas gift in December 1921. Of the many moving poems amongst its leaves I found this the most poignant:
By all the glories of the day
And the cool evenings benison,
By that last sunset that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By Beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, lord
By all of all mans hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing
The laughter of unclouded years
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages store
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord
I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Must say good bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss
Help me to die , O Lord
The poem was written on June 29th 1916 as the author prepared for for the British army’s offensive in Northern France. William Noel Hodgson the author, fell two days later at the Somme, one of the 19,240 to die on the first day of the battle. His writings along with his personal possession were returned to his father after his death and it was he who secured a publisher and the work was published posthumously.
The poem has a strong reflective and melancholic narrative that is poignant and in the context of its creation, prophetic and bitterly sad. To me it is emblematic of the lost youth in a distant but not forgotten war. The imagery of the poem at first glance appears to describe a landscape but also alludes to times passed and to someone facing certain death reflecting on their life, all be it a short one. I memorised this poem and carried it for sometime in my head before I picked up my camera to try and make any images. I also read Zeepvat (2014) which offers a wider context on the work and the author. I felt I needed to know more about the Hodgson and the context of the work. I must confess to being left with a deep anger in discovering more about the fate of so many young men and the lack of value placed on their lives. I had to manage that anger as I made the work for the exercise.
The thoughts that came to my mind where the distance between the authors world and contemporary society, I thought about young people enjoying the pub on a summers evening (as I went to collect my daughter from such an event on several occasions).
‘And the cool evenings benison,
By that last sunset that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,’
I thought of the freedoms we enjoy that generations before did not, I thought of class deference and the misplaced sense of honour in the face of what might now be regarded as war crimes. In the battle of the Somme generals used military strategy that was 150 years old and it might be said unfit for the first mechanised war. I thought of aftermath and the land and how time heals the land, although the scars might be found by looking just below the surface.
‘The laughter of unclouded years
And every sad and lovely thing;’
I thought about the countryside around my home and its similarly to that of some of the battlefields of France. Also Chloe debe Matthew’s work ‘Shot at Dawn’ came to mind as did the oblique and ‘Aftermath’ photograohy of Paul Seawright and Donovan Wylie.I spent some time looking at their works and reading the poem aloud. In particular Seawright’s haunting image of discarded shell casings in Afghanistan and its homage to Fenton’s 1855 work: ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death.
‘Must say good bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss’
Over time though I distilled my thoughts and ideas about the poem in the a short list of themes that would be the basis to begin making images.
- Young people at leisure
- The land at the end of the day
- The land being worked, the aftermath of the harvest
- Light, evening and dawn light
- Harvesting and the reaper
- Life going on
I pondered on a number of ideas and while doing this noticed that in the land around my house the farmers, having harvested the wheat in the fields were now producing rectangular hay bales and stacking them high. Tall singular sentinels standing out in the landscape. This was really unusual in that for as long as I can remember hay has been collected and made into what had been up until now the ubiquitous circular bails. I was struck by these tall monolith like towers that spread across the land. I spent some time walking about without taking a picture, this has become of feature of my approach, to think much more wisely about when to take the camera to my eye. I then formulated an idea around the harvest clearing things away and the solitary sentinels of hay looking out over the land.
After some experimental images I settled on the following short set in response to the poem. In choosing the final images I tried to take account of the bullet points in the brief, encouraging a careful reflection on the selection of this or any set.
Fenton, R. Valley of the Shadow Of Death (1855) found at: blog.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/remembrance-day-part-1-photographing-war-fenton-crimean/ (Accessed August 2016)
Hodgson, W, (1915) Verse and prose in Peace and War. Smith and Elder. London
Matthews, C (2014) Shot at Dawn- Found at: http://www.chloedewemathews.com/shot-at-dawn/ (Accessed August 2016)
Wylie, D. (2011) Outposts found at: https://steidl.de/Books/Outposts-0818213552.html?SID=SVFLuijda6e9 (Accessed August 2016)
Seawright, P. (2002) Hidden found at: www.paulseawright.com/hidden/ (Accessed August 2016)
Zeepvat, C. (2014) Before Action-William Noel Hodgson and the 9th Devons-A story of the Great War, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley