Photopoetry

Nott (2018:25) describes the origins of photopoetry from the mid-19th century. He considers the most engaging works “combine the visuality of photography and the textuality of poetry to create multisensory sites reliant upon the independence and interdependence of text and image”. Nott also categorises photopoetry into collaborative and retrospective; collaborative is where a photographer and a poet work together on a project, whereas retrospective refers to instances where a photographer makes images to accompany an existing collection of poems (often some time after the poems were written, and rarely the other way round with a poet writing verse to accompany an existing collection of photographs). Retrospective work was more common in the 19th and early 20th century whereas collaborative endeavours became the most common type from the mid-20th century on.

Nicholls & Ling (s.d.) give a good overview of published photopoetic work, with examples of retrospective books such as Leaves of Grass (Weston & Whitman 1942) where the photographer Edward Weston’s 1941 photographs illustrated Walt Whitman’s poems from 1855. One of the better known more recent examples of collaborative work is Elmet (Hughes & Godwin 1994), a book published by the then Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and the well-known photographer Fay Godwin.

It is interesting to note that among the many examples of photopoetry shown by Nott (2018) and by Nicholls & Ling (s.d.) very few have the poem as intimately integrated with the image, as is the case in Surimono. In the overwhelming majority of cases the poem is printed on a facing page or underneath or alongside the image. This is quite understandable when the poems are too long to incorporate alongside the photograph, but even when the poems are short, such as in Haiku: The Mood of Earth (Atwood 1971) nearly all the poems are on a white background next to the photograph.

References

Atwood, A. (1971) Haiku: The Mood of Earth. The Haiku Foundation Digital Library. At: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/2365 (Accessed 25/01/2021).

Hughes, T. and Godwin, F. (1994) Elmet. London: Faber & Faber.

Nicholls, J. and Ling, K. (s.d.) PhotoPoetry. At: https://www.photopedagogy.com/photopoetry.html (Accessed 21/12/2020).

Nott, M. (2018) Photopoetry 1845-2015, a Critical History. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. At: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=HjNWDwAAQBAJ

Weston, E. and Whitman, W. (1942) Leaves of Grass. New York: Limited Editions Club.