Why photographers should read poetry.
Photography is incomplete. And poetry is incomplete. Both mediums are fragments of the entire story.
Which is why they’re a perfect combination.
Let’s take a portrait for example. It’s impossible to capture an entire person’s essence in a single photograph. Their history is too dense, their past too deep. They have countless experiences and thoughts that fuse together underneath the surface to form the person in front of the camera.
And likewise, poetry doesn’t spell out an entire story either. In a novel, the writer can dive into the backstory of the character, allude to experiences that have shaped the character. But in poetry, you have too few lines to make that happen. The imagination of the reader picks up the rest.
This poem by Gregory Pardlo inspired me to create the photograph below.
From “Giornata: On Faith”
The swear jar isn't empty. Full of flowers
instead of coins it makes a cursed bouquet
of love-me-nots, a tangled vine of credit
extended to one most likely to default.
Such a trifling bargain, flowers for mercy.
O Nature, predatory lender!
Risk is the commuter bus I ride between damnation
and wonder. Stitch my wounds loosely. Give me chastity,
O Lord, says the Berber Saint,
for miracle and sin are kindred. Each is hatched
from a broken law.
When I read this poem, my own imagination flurried. I remembered how as a kid, I would pick up dandelions and blow on their seeds till they flew away. Then I’d make a wish. And hope for my dreams to come true.
So I made a photograph about that.
For photographers, reading poetry helps us to think about the story we want to tell with our photograph. Helps us to develop intention. We can’t capture the entire essence of our subject, so what will we focus on?
Ask yourself before taking a photo: What will I include in this fragment?
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