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Writing and Photography

Even a brief look at the relationship between photography and literature suggests affinity. For instance, both take wide views or closeups. The serious photographer, writer or poet is always looking at the world, its people, at the relations between people and things. Both know that they are representing the world, can never present it transparently as if unmediated by their art.

Writers and photographers are fascinated by light and shadow, the positioning of people and objects, the locating of fore-, middle- and background. Both are highly skilled in their media. No matter how skilled, they require that singular element, the unique vision or voice that is their creativity.

Sometimes the connection between photography and literature is explicit. The imagist poetry of the early 20th century, the imagery of the much older haiku, recall the importance of imagery in literary and visual arts.

Words and photographs frequently appear together. They may complement each other in a documentary story, or a single image may be anchored to a caption.

A single photograph tells a story; a collection makes, perhaps, a photo-essay. A more intense collection produces the moving image, cinema. Early cinema used forms taken from novel genre; later literature took forms from filmic genre. We know what is meant if a novel is described as ‘cinematic’: as cultures develop, different forms interpenetrate: we learn culture without diplomas.

The writer W.G. Sebald produced not only writing that is stunningly visual, he supplemented it with photography. A piece of writing or a photograph is always ghostly and never fixed. In a different level of thinking, fiction occurs over time while a photograph ‘captures’ and isolates a moment: this is partly true but it is partly true of the nature of media rather than the affective dimensions.

I think a writer may have many other interests from collecting stamps to looking after an allotment. For me, writing is my main focus but my photography hobby does enhance my ways of seeing and my ways of looking. The two activities meet as I work towards supplementing the text around The City of Dreadful Night with images, including photographs I have made.

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