The intimate viewfinder: Poetic ekphrasis of photographs and the illusion of the real

Paul Hetherington, Cassandra Atherton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As digital photography proliferates in the contemporary world, theorists and creative writers continue to debate what photographs signify and how the poetic ekphrasis of photographs should be understood. This has become a pressing issue in an age when new technologies allow the easy manipulation of digital images – which, depending on the context in which they are viewed, are increasingly being characterised as creative, imaginative, unreliable or deceptive. Yet nineteenth- and early to mid-twentieth-century theorists tended to assume that photographs had a direct, if complex, relationship to observable, external reality, something reiterated by Susan Sontag as late as 1977. This paper discusses how ekphrastic poems by Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin enshrine assumptions about photography that are now shifting, and how contemporary ekphrastic poems about photographs increasingly challenge, sometimes subversively, photography’s link to the ‘real’. Such poetry continues to emphasise the way photographs connote a ‘chasm’ or ‘thickening’ of time but are more troubled than earlier authors by the idea that photographs may not represent anything clear or knowable. Eve Joseph’s and Leslie Scalapino’s poetry demonstrates ways in which photographs tend to juxtapose a sense of transience with a new sense of photography’s sometimes obdurate problematics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalNew Writing: the international journal for the practice and theory of creative writing
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Feb 2024


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