Seren, £20, 112pp. £18 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Writing The Picture, By David Hurn and John Fuller
Friday 06 August 2010
This book is among the most critically and financially risky of enterprises: a combination of the work of a well-known photographer with that of an equally well-known poet. Collaborators over the decades, David Hurn and John Fuller insist that neither of their work is intended to illustrate the other. Presumably, its role is to create a fresh synthesis that amounts to more than a sum of the parts, while acknowledging that both image and verse can stand alone. Much is down to how the combination works on the page. The format is traditional: each double-spread awards the verso to the poem and the recto to the photo, following the journalistic idiom that the reader's eye is always first drawn to the right-hand image.
Hurn, an Englishman living on the Welsh borders, has been documenting his adoptive homeland for the past 40 years. The majority of these beautifully reproduced black-and-white images date back to another Wales: that of miners, their faces stained black with coal, their teeth bared white as minstrels'; of the marching band that accompanied a rugby team, preceded by a shaggy dog and two kids racing a metal pram down the road; and a name-check of the most famed and favoured of Welsh poets, his curling photo-portrait in a café in the seaside village where Dylan Thomas wrote in his boathouse – as it were, a dual reference to both the poet and the photographer.
The words, provided by a poet who has spent long years as an Oxford academic, are often surprisingly populist and lyrical. The NUM banner on parade ("Mardy Lodge: Forward to Socialism") opens with a verse: "I saw my valley taken/ For a bondman's wage./ When will we awaken?" The deliberate historicity of "bondman" followed at once with the question, as much of the hymnal as a political slogan, could as well be sung. Lyricism abounds in another of Hurn's favourite subjects, a wild colt, arched white against the dark gorse, reframed by Fuller as: "I dreamed a pony that could fly:/he suddenly looked up at me/With horizons in his eye".
Deprivation, however, has less elegant aspects. The old sailor still squeezes his accordion, and is photographed with a bollard behind his shoulder, as if it were a lighthouse. But the young woman shooting up on bare floorboards beside a dirty lavatory bowl makes a clear statement: "Don't any of you look at me./ I am not here".
Perhaps the authors protest too much. After an initial discussion, included in the fascinating introduction, they concur that the specificity of a poem can only follow on that of the image, not the reverse. Either way, this brave volume offers a proud collaboration between two masters of their chosen arts.
Amanda Hopkinson is professor of literary translation at UEA, Norwich
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
- 2 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 3 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 4 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 5 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Loose Women poll asking if rape is 'ever a woman's fault' sparks backlash
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up