Exercise 3: Poetry Interpretation

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.

Night creeps over the city,
Streets spangle with kilowatt pearls,
Lights splatter over seas of shadows
Damming the flood of darkness

Drunken night,
A hobo bowed over a bar of time,
Brooding over a black bottle of stars
Blinking like beer bubbles

Soon comes the police patrol of dawn,
Night staggers slowly away,
And then the day.

Richard Durham
I came across this poem in an old book of poetry I bought many years ago, and upon reading it was instantly reminded of nights out on the town. Specific words and lines resonated-‘kilowatt pearls’, ‘brooding over a black bottle of stars’ ‘flood of darkness’ ‘and then the day’ – all managed to open the floodgates of memories of when I used to drink, how it got out of control and how I came to dread my life (or lack of it). The poem triggered feelings about addiction and specifically the feelings of not being in control, living in the shadows, anxiety and fear-and living life in the shadows. 

Having to interpret this visually was a challenge. It’s hard enough to describe a feeling in words but to then express that with an image or images requires a different approach and mindset.
My first challenge was not to try and use individual images to describe different feelings or memories but rather get a sequence of images that communicated as a whole some of the feeling described above. I had to stop being literal and think metaphorically without resorting to cliche.

The photos I used are intended to convey a feeling of living in the shadows, not being fully there, life passing you by, snippets of life breaking through. Nothing is in focus. Its a hint of a life lived.

I  used black and white as it lent a consistency to the series and purposely knocked images out of focus or used longer exposures to blur and lend a feeling of movement.



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