Photography as illustrative art

In the spirit of creativity for this first exercise in the Fine Art Photography segment of the course, I have rather gone off brief. The poem I chose is not particularly famous but it is one that I have always found to be moving and visually inspiring and it ties in this year with the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

The exercise suggested that we create three images to illustrate the start, the main story and the end. At first I approached this very literally but the more I played with the images, the less that method appealed. I also did not want to get too caught up in Photoshop and heavy-handed composites involving stock images of guns or barbed wire.

My original plan was for:

  • Image one – old man crying in the dark by a closed door
  • Image two – distorted screaming man with army beret, possibly in sepia to indicate a PTSD type memory of the trenches
  • Image three – blurred man staring out of the window to convey an emptiness

In the end I opted for an approach which just tried to capture the sadness and the horror.

The Secret Crier by Paul Birtill 

The old man wept

privately making

sure the windows

were closed and

mortise-lock was

on the front door.


He had been caught

crying once before

in the trenches on

the Somme and had

been threatened

with a .38 revolver…


It was quite difficult to choose a suitable font as typesetting back then would have been very basic. I tried Stencil but it came out looking a bit too M*A*S*H:

A simple typewriter font seemed about right but the black background may be too modern:

These are some of the other images I had considered but the did not quite reflect exactly the narrative I was aiming for.

AY2A3342 AY2A3340 AY2A3314 AY2A3284 AY2A3265 AY2A3265-2 AY2A3260

My final selection

I am not fully satisfied with the outcome but cannot spend any more time on this.

I think the darkness of the images works well for this exercise. It provides a heavy sense of trauma but also of the secrecy. The old man is locked in but still vulnerable and we cannot see where are the edges of his safe environment. Although I prevaricated on this a lot, I am happy that the images do not have to show actual tears or a gun or a lock.  The photographs are designed to work with the text of the poem and so can be much more subtle than if representing the whole narrative in isolation.





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One Response to Photography as illustrative art

  1. Catherine says:

    Certainly captures the mood for me.


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