By Carol Ann Duffy war photographer

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by Carol Ann Duffy


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Contents war-photography-menahem-kahana 897512483_ab9e057585 war12

  1. War Photographer’ – the poem

  2. Summary

  3. Background Notes:

          • War Photographers

          • Religious Imagery

          • Places mentioned in the poem

  1. Key Quotes & Analysis

  2. Practice Essay Questions

  3. Worked Essay Plan

  4. Suggested Revision Tasks

  5. Useful Evaluative Phrases

War Photographer

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays

beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don't explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger's features

faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man's wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white

from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday's supplement. The reader's eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.

Carol Ann Duffy

This poem is about a person who is clearly not the poet. The surface subject of the poem is the war photographer of the title but at a deeper level the poem explores the difference between "Rural England" and places where wars are fought (Northern Ireland, the Lebanon and Cambodia); between the comfort or indifference of the newspaper editor and its readers, and the suffering of the people in the photographs. ‘War Photographer’ (from Standing Female Nude, 1985) comes from Duffy's friendship with Don McCullin and Philip Jones Griffiths, two very well-respected stills photographers who specialised in war photography. But the photographer in the poem is anonymous: he could be any of those who record scenes of war. He is not so much a particular individual as, like the poet, an observer and recorder of others' lives. He is an outsider ("alone/With spools of suffering") who moves between two worlds but is comfortable in neither. The "ordered rows" of film spools may suggest how the photographer tries to bring order to what he records, to interpret or make sense of it.

The simile which compares him to a priest shows how seriously he takes his job, and how (by photographing them) he stands up for those who cannot help themselves. His darkroom resembles a church in which his red light is like a coloured lantern (quite common in Catholic and some Anglican churches). The image is also appropriate because, like a priest, he teaches how fragile we are and how short life is. ("All flesh is grass" is a quotation from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah contrasts the shortness of human life with eternal religious truths - "the Word of the Lord" which "abides forever"). In the poem, the sentence follows a list of names. These are places where life is even briefer than normal, because of wars.

The second stanza contrasts the photographer's calmness when taking pictures with his attitude as he develops them. If his hands shake when he takes pictures, they won't be any good, but in the darkroom he can allow his hands to tremble. "Solutions" refers literally to the developing fluid in the trays, but also suggests the idea of solving the political problems which cause war - "solutions" which he does not have, of course. Duffy contrasts the fields in England with those abroad - as if the photographer thinks English fields unusual for not being minefields. The image is shocking, because he thinks of land mines as exploding not under soldiers but under "the feet of running children".

What "is happening" in the third stanza is that an image is gradually appearing as a photo develops. "Ghost" is ambiguous (it has more than one meaning). It suggests the faint emerging image, but also that the man in the photo is dead (which is why the picture was taken). The photographer recalls both the reaction of the wife on seeing her husband die. He is not able to ask for permission to take the picture (either there is no time or he does not speak the language or both) but he seeks "approval without words". It is as if the wife needs to approve of his recording the event while the blood stains "into foreign dust".

"In black and white" is ambiguous: it suggests the monochrome photographs but also the ideas of telling the truth and of the simple contrast of good and evil. The photographer has recorded some hundred images which are only a small sample of what has happened, yet only a handful will ever appear in print. Although the reader may be moved, to tears even, this sympathy is short-lived, between bathing and a drink before lunch. Duffy imagines the photographer finally looking down, from an aeroplane, on England (either coming or going). This is the country which pays his wages ("where/he earns his living") but where people "do not care" about the events he records.

War Photographers

War photography captures photographs of armed conflict and life in war-torn areas. The genre has existed since the Mexican-American war of 1847. In the 20th century, almost all major conflicts have been documented by photographers, many of whom were killed whilst working.

Unlike paintings, which presented a single illustration of a specific event, photography offered the opportunity for an extensive amount of images to enter circulation. The proliferation of the photographic images allowed the public to be well informed about war. The rise of mass-reproduced images of war were not only used to inform the public but they served as imprints of the time and as historical recordings. Mass-produced images did have consequences. Besides informing the public, the glut of images in distribution over-saturated the market, allowing viewers to develop the ability to ignore or disregard the value and importance of certain shocking photographs because they had already seen so many similar pictures. This process of becoming numb and detached from shocking events is called ‘desensitisation’.

War photographers need not necessarily work near active fighting; instead they may document the aftermath of conflict. The German photographer Frauke Eigen created a photographic exhibition about war crimes in Kosovo which focussed on the clothing and belongings of the victims of ethnic cleansing, rather than on their corpses. Eigen's photographs were taken during the exhumation of mass graves, and were later used as evidence by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Duffy’s poem explores many of these aspects of the job in her poem.

Those photographs are in the background but I'm more interested in the photographer... in the dilemma of someone who has that as a job... to go to these places and come back with the images.

  • Carol Ann Duffy

Working in a war zone is a compromise between the perfect shot and staying alive. The dilemma for the photographer... is the question of what to do - do I take the photograph? Or do I do something to help?

The editor's evaluation between a good photograph and a bad photograph can be different from the photographer's... I would perhaps choose images that an editor wouldn't... because I remember all the associations connected to that photograph... it may just be a body, but I might know whose body that is.

  • Ken Guest (war-photojournalist)

You have to see things other people don't want to see, and you have to do your job.

  • Colin Crawford - Los Angeles Times

My stress is nothing compared with civilians and soldiers. I remind myself of that all the time. I don't have to be there – they don't have the choice.

  • Gary Knight – photographer

Religious Imagery in the Poem
Sanctuary Lamps
Christian churches often have at least one lamp continually burning, not only as an ornament of the altar, but for the purpose of worship. In the Catholic Church, for instance: "In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should be kept alight to indicate and honour the presence of Christ."

The sanctuary lamp can represent the eternal presence of God or show that the light of Christ always burns in a sin-darkened world.

Such sanctuary lamps are often coloured red. This distinguishes this light from other candles and lights within the church and highlights its importance.

All Flesh is Grass
This is a biblical quotation from Isaiah 40:6-8

The full quotation reads:

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

The point being made is that compared to the eternal and everlasting word of God, human life is fleeting and transient. It is a reminder that we are all mortal.

In the poem this reference adds to the images of death which abound: “mass...explode beneath the feet of running children...half-formed ghost...blood stained into foreign dust...agonies...” The photographer’s job means he is constantly faced with death. He of all people must know that “all flesh is grass”.
Positioning the biblical reference after a list of war-torn countries also emphasises the shortness of life experienced by people caught up in those conflicts. Indeed, the lives of the people the photographer captures are likely to be even shorter than any other human elsewhere on the planet.
The word ‘grass’ forms a rhyming couplet with the word ‘mass' before it. Taken alongside ‘Phnom Penh’, the reader is perhaps reminded of a mass grave – biodegrade into the soil. This is enhanced by the word ‘flesh’ which dehumanises the bodies of the dead: they are simply meat.

Places mentioned in the poem


Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since its establishment in 1921 following the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It has been the scene of various episodes of sectarian conflict between its Roman Catholic and Protestant populations. These opposing groups in this conflict are now often termed republican and loyalist respectively, although they are also referred to as 'nationalist' and 'unionist'. The most recent example of this conflict was known as the Troubles – a civil conflict that raged from around 1969 to the late 1990s. Belfast saw some of the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, particularly in the 1970s, with rival paramilitary groups formed on both sides. Bombing, assassination and street violence formed a backdrop to life throughout the Troubles. The Provisional IRA detonated 22 bombs within the confines of Belfast city centre in 1972, on what is known as "Bloody Friday", killing nine people. Loyalist paramilitaries including the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) claimed that the killings they carried out were in retaliation for the IRA campaign. Most of their victims were Roman Catholics with no links to the Provisional IRA. A particularly notorious group, based on the Shankill Road in the mid 1970s, became known as the Shankill Butchers. In all, over 1,500 people were killed in political violence in the city from 1969 until 2001.


After Lebanon achieved independence in 1943, Beirut became its capital city. The city remained a regional intellectual capital, becoming a major tourist destination, and a banking haven (especially for the Persian Gulf Oil Boom). This era of relative prosperity ended in 1975 when the Lebanese Civil War broke out throughout the country. During most of the war, Beirut was divided between a Muslim west part and the Christian east. The downtown area, previously the home of much of the city's commercial and cultural activities, became a no man's land known as the "Green Line." Many inhabitants fled to other countries. About 60,000 people died in the first two years of the war (1975–1976), and much of the city was devastated.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was used as a base by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, and thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the city to escape the fighting between their own government troops, the NVA/NLF, the South Vietnamese and its allies, and the Khmer Rouge. By 1975, the population was 3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting. The city fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. Most of its residents, including those who were wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced to do labour on rural farms as "new people". Tuol Sleng High School was taken over by Pol Pot's forces and was turned into the S-21 prison camp, where Cambodians were detained and tortured. Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian(farming-based) economy and therefore killed any people perceived as educated, "lazy", or political enemies. Many others starved to death as a result of failure of the agrarian society and the sale of Cambodia's rice to China in exchange for bullets and weaponry. The former high school is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where Khmer Rouge torture devices and photos of their victims are displayed. Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields), 15 kilometres (9 mi) away, where the Khmer Rouge marched prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be murdered and buried in shallow pits, is also now a memorial to those who were killed by the regime.

Key Quotes & Analysis

Below is a list of techniques used in ‘War Photographer’.

To write about the poem successfully, you should……

  • understand what these technical words mean and be able to explain them, giving examples from the poem

  • be able to evaluate the effectiveness of techniques in the poem

(i.e. what it adds to the reader’s understanding of the poem’s theme/message)





Word choice

Literally room for developing photographs. Connotations of a serious, brooding, bleak, grim place: perhaps suggest the job takes the photographer to a dark place mentally: anxiety, stress and horror.

finally alone”

Word choice


Inversion places these words at the end of the line for emphasis. ‘finally’ suggests he has been longing for solitude, desperate to escape someone or something. The emphasis on being ‘alone’ reflects the loneliness of his job: separated from his subject, his editor and his readers.

spools of suffering set out in ordered rows”



Word choice / Image

Repetition of the consonant sound ‘s’ and the vowel sound ‘o’ mirrors the repetition of the spools of film laid out on the photographer’s table: each sound is clearly and methodically marked out: mirroring the repetitive, meticulous arrangement of the canisters of film.

The ‘ordered’ rows brings to mind the image of rows of tombstones(?) or ranks of soldiers(?) creating a link to the horrors of war which are depicted on the films themselves.

Including the adjective ‘ordered’ emphasises the photographer’s methodical, almost robotic way of working.

the only light is red and softly glows”

Colour symbolism

Word choice

“only” build on the idea of loneliness and solitude.

“red” can symbolise danger or blood – what the photographer deals in photos of. It also suggests a ‘Sanctuary Lamp’ contributing to the stanza’s extended religious image.

“softly glows” adds to the genteel atmosphere of this safe, quiet, lonely room back home

as though this were a church and he / a priest preparing to intone a Mass”

Extended image

The developing room is compared to a church, the photographer to a priest and his work is compared to preparations for a Mass.

This perhaps suggests that the work the photographer does is comparable to spreading the word/truth of God: serious, worthy, life-changing work. The image is extended by the biblical quotation which ends the stanza. (See below)

Beirut. Belfast. Phnom Penh.”


Single word sentences.

The punctuation/list is blunt and functional (like the photographer’s work). Sounds like a roll-call perhaps suggesting they are simply examples from a much longer list.

These are places which have suffered from the ravages of civil war or genocide.

All flesh is grass.”

Biblical reference


This is a biblical quotation. In its full context, the phrase is used to illustrate that the word of God is eternal and consistent compared to human life which is transient and brief.

In this context in the poem, this ties in with the religious imagery. It has already been suggested that the photographer is spreading an important message through his photos (as a priest spreads the word of God). This quotation develops that idea, highlighting how the suffering the photographer shoots is constantly changing and on-going but his photos succeed in capturing it and making it permanent.

The rhyming of ‘mass’ and ‘grass’ as well as the mention of Phnom Penh might also invoke the idea of mass graves or burial sites, where the bodies of victims of genocide/war decompose and literally turn to grass in the soil.

The juxtaposition of this phrase with the list of places is perhaps an ironic comment: yes, all human life ends eventually, but in such places as these it is ended much sooner.

Alone...ordered rows...only...softly though...intone... Phnom Penh”


The vowel sound ‘o (oh)’ is repeated throughout the first stanza. This recurring sound reflects the sound of the priest intoning a mass – solemn, low and deep – adding to the serious and solemn atmosphere.

He has a job to do.”

Simple sentence


Literally refers to the job of developing the photos, but also refers to his overall job of war photography.

Short, simple and blunt: reflecting the blunt, matter-of-fact approach the photographer has to take to his work. Perhaps this is a justification or excuse for his job?

Solutions slop”



Word Choice

The word solutions means literally the liquid used to develop the pictures. It also suggests ‘the solution to a problem’. In this case, the answer/solution to the problem of war is sloppy.

The word ‘slop’ and the alliteration of the ‘s’ sound suggest the sloshing of the liquid. This emphasises how the ‘solutions’ (literal and figurative) are messy, volatile or difficult to deal with. The contrast between the messiness of war and the orderliness of home is a running theme in the poem.

hands which did not tremble then / though seem to now”



The photographer’s hands are steady when taking photos – they have to be, otherwise the pictures would be blurry and unsalable. In contrast, when he gets home and he does not need to suppress his emotions, his hands tremble with fear/anxiety. The enjambment emphasises the contrast by putting “though seem to now” on a new line.

Rural England”

Word Choice

Minor sentence

This minor sentence shifts the poem to the photographer’s home. The word ‘rural’ connotes a perfect, countryside life: leafy, green, peaceful, natural and calm. This contrasts with the other place-names in stanza one which were exactly the opposite: urban, harsh, volatile and dangerous.

Ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel”


Word Choice

Pain, by definition, is something unexpected – a reaction to something unusual and unpleasant: it is never ordinary. The oxymoron ‘ordinary pain’, then, makes the reader consider what is meant.

The kind of pain experienced in ‘rural England’ is not really pain at all, but unhappiness which can be salved by mere sunshine. This makes us wonder what kind of pain in experienced abroad: it must be terrible, agonising, serious and real pain.

Fields which don’t explode beneath the feet / of running children in a nightmare heat”

Word choice

This seems a peculiar sentence: of course we don’t expect fields to explode. In England, fields are part of comfortable, rural life. These lines emphasise the terrible contrast between this life, and the ‘nightmare’ life in a war zone (which might contain minefields).

The reader is reminded of the famous picture of the naked child Kim Phuc running from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War.

Something is happening.”


Simple sentence

Just like the second stanza, the third starts with a vague, simple sentence. The ‘something’ is ambiguous: literally a photograph is developing, but something else is happening too – the photographer is experiencing all the associated feelings and memories that the photo holds for him. He is being transported back to the moment of taking the picture.

“A stranger’s features / slowly start to twist before his eyes”

Word choice

The photograph begins to develop. The word ‘twist’ is a verb with connotations of pain, anguish, horror or shock. This may be because the man in the photo is dying or in pain, or it may reflect the anguish of the photographer himself.

A half-formed ghost"


The man in the photo has become a ghost. This suggests his death. Perhaps too, the photographer is ‘haunted’ by memories of it.

He remembers the cries /

of this man’s wife, how he sought approval /

without words to do what someone must /

and how the blood stained into foreign dust.”

Word choice

As the photograph begins to come to life, so too do the photographer’s memories of the incident. Extra senses are described: the sound of the wife’s sorrow and the colour/texture of his blood soaking into the earth.

The incident highlights the moral dilemma faced by war photographers. They have a job to do (“to do what someone must”) but they are intruding on other people’s misery. The photographer obviously feels awkward about this as he seeks the wife’s permission.

a hundred agonies in black and white”



In this metaphor the photographs have become physical manifestations of pain and suffering: each one tells a story.

The pictures are literally monochrome. Alternatively, there is no doubt or uncertainty about the agony in the pictures: the suffering is there to see ‘in black and white’.

from which his editor will pick out five or six”

Word choice

In contrast to the ‘hundreds’ of pictures of suffering available, the editor has only room for a very few. The word ‘pick’ and the vagueness of ‘five or six’ perhaps suggest a criticism of the editor for being casual/off-hand when dealing with these pictures.

for Sunday’s supplement.”

Word choice


Supplements are the magazines and extra inserts contained in Sunday newspapers which include more varied news (often about culture, money, business, sport, fashion etc...).

There is perhaps an implicit criticism here: the photographer’s pictures aren’t considered important enough to be part of the main news section, but are relegated to the ‘extra bits’.

the reader’s eyeballs prick / with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers”

Word choice

The phrase ‘prick with tears’ suggests the sensation of almost crying; considered alongside the short duration of the readers’ distress, this is a clear criticism of their shallow response to the horrifying pictures. The words ‘bath’ and ‘pre-lunch beers’ also suggest luxury and indulgence which is in stark contrast to the lives of those captured on film by the photographer.

From aeroplane he stares impassively at where / he earns a living and they do not care.”

Word choice



By the end of the poem, there is a suggestion that the photographer has become numb to his job, a little like the editor and readers. He stares without emotion (‘impassively’). The idea from earlier in the poem that he must be cold and unflinching to do his job(‘he has a job to do’ & ‘to do what someone must’) is repeated in the phrase ‘he earns a living’.

The critical tone of ‘they’ condemns the newspaper readers / citizens for their selfishness.

The repetitive assonance of the ‘ay’ sound (‘aeroplane... stares...’) helps create a monotonous feeling of drudgery: the photographer is resigned to the way things are. The poem definitely concludes on a negative note.


Practice Essay Questions (Higher)gital cameras 1jn11-1

2004 (Q.15)

Choose a poem in which the poet creates a picture of a heroic or a corrupt figure.

Discuss the means by which the personality is clearly depicted.

In your answer you must refer closely to the text and to at least two of: imagery, tone, rhyme, word choice, or any other appropriate feature.

2005 (Q.12)

Choose a poem in which a specific setting is strongly evoked.

Show how the poet creates this sense of place and/or time, and then discuss the relative importance of the setting to the poem as a whole.

In your answer you must refer closely to the text and to at least two of: setting, theme, mood, imagery, or any other appropriate feature.

2006 (Q.14)

Choose two poems by the same poet which you consider similar in theme and style.

By referring to theme and style in both poems, discuss which poem your prefer.
2006 (Q.15)

Choose a poem which explores one of the following subjects: bravery, compassion, tenderness.

Show how the poet’s exploration of the subject appeals to you emotionally and/or intellectually.
2007 (Q.13)

Choose two poems on the same theme which impress you for different reasons.

Compare the treatment of theme in the two poems and discuss to what extent you find one more impressive than the other.
2007 (Q.14)

Choose a poem in which there is effective use of one or more of the following: verse form, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, sound.

Show how the poet effectively uses the feature(s) to enhance your appreciation of the poem as a whole.
2008 (Q.12)

Choose a poem which deals with conflict or danger or death.

Show how the poet creates an appropriate mood for the subject matter and go on to discuss how effectively she/he uses this mood to enhance your understanding of the central idea of the poem.
2009 (Q.14)

Choose a poem in which contrast is important in developing theme.

Explore the poet’s use of contrast and show why it is important in developing a key theme of the poem.
2010 (Q.14)

Choose a poem in which the creation of mood or atmosphere is an important feature.

Show how the poet creates the mood or atmosphere, and discuss its importance in your appreciation of the poem as a whole.


Worked Essay Plan: Compassion

Step 1

  • Identify the key words in the question:

Choose a poem which explores one of the following subjects: bravery, compassion, tenderness.

Show how the poet’s exploration of the subject appeals to you emotionally and/or intellectually.

  • Brainstorm other words for the key word ‘compassion’. This will stop your points becoming repetitive:









Step 2

  • Decide how to structure your essay / what points you will make.

  • Plan which techniques/key quotes to discuss in each section.

Points about how the poem explores compassion:

  1. Reader feels compassion for lonely figure of photographer presented in stanza 1. (emotional appeal)

  2. We also get impression he is a compassionate man himself through religious images. The poem itself is an exploration of the conflict between compassion and doing the job of war photography. (intellectual appeal)

  3. We learn that he is stoic/professional about his job, but he still feels pain. (stanza 2)

  4. Memories of the photograph he is developing illustrate the dilemma faced by all war photographers: to be compassionate or to do their job? The subject of the poem clearly cares deeply about the picture despite it being of a ‘stranger’; it has had a profound effect on him. (Intellectual appeal: the moral dilemma. Emotional appeal: pity for the photographer.)

  5. The photographer’s compassion is re-emphasised through contrast with his editor/readers.

  6. The final lines of the poem seem to be a direct accusation to the reader that they do not show enough compassion for foreign victims of war. (Intellectual appeal – challenge to reader to consider own attitudes)

Example Detailed Paragraph Plan





“darkroom...finally alone...spools of suffering set out in ordered rows”

Initial impression of photographer: lonely, tormented, trying to cope with his job:

  • Connotations of ‘darkroom’

  • Inversion of ‘finally alone’

  • Connotations of ‘ordered rows’

This involves the reader emotionally. Establishes sympathy for the lonely photographer.


“softly glows”
“as though this were a church and he / a priest preparing to intone a Mass.”

Comparison of photographer with priest. Extended image conveys the qualities (incl. compassion) needed to do the job:

  • Simile: idea of respect for the dead / spreading the word of compassion/love for fellow man.

  • The atmosphere is reverential and sombre

  • Word choice : ‘intone’

Reader develops a respect; begins to understand importance of his job + compassion required.


“He has a job to do.”

“Hands which did not tremble then / though seem to now.”

“Home again / to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel.”

Despite being clearly very affected by his work, the photographer seems stoic and resolute in his work. He seems able to suppress his emotions in order to get the job done, but his trembling hands indicate that once home, the psychological effects take their toll.

The oxymoron ‘ordinary pain’ makes the reader imagine what kind of pain he must have seen abroad.


“A stranger’s features / faintly start to twist before his eyes. / a half-formed ghost.”
“He remembers the cries / of this man’s wife, how he sought approval / without words to do what someone must.”
“And how the blood stained into foreign dust.”

The emerging picture is a catalyst which sparks the photographer’s memory. We are taken back to the moment with him, and begin to understand the trauma he endures abroad. Although to anyone else the man in the photo is a ‘stranger’, the photographer can remember every detail and clearly feels intense compassion:

  • ‘twist’ ‘faintly & half-formed ghost’

  • ‘without words to do what someone must’

  • ‘blood stained into foreign dust’


“his editor will pick out five or six for Sunday’s supplement”
“The reader’s eyeballs prick / with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.”

Makes the reader question the morality of compassion. The photographer cares, but does it do any good? Editor and public are criticised for the shallowness of their compassion. These lines represent the ethical question at the heart of the poem.


“From aeroplane he stares impassively at where / he earns a living and they do not care.”

Final couplet of the poem sees the photographer flying back out to resume his work abroad and challenges the reader to consider their own attitudes. Do we feel sorry for him? Has he lost his compassion? Is he right to criticise the desensitised public?

Step 3Write an introduction using TARTS (Text, Author, Reference to Q, Themes, Summary)
Example Introduction

The poem ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes the methodical work of the anonymous photographer of the title, developing pictures in his darkroom at home in England. Through this description, the reader is challenged to consider the emotional and moral tensions felt by the photographer, as well as question the attitudes of the mass print media to suffering. Finally, the poem leads the reader to confront their own reactions and opinion. At the heart of the poem’s emotional and intellectual appeal is the compassion of the war photographer. The contrast between his sense of duty as a photographer and as a fellow human being, attuned to the suffering of his fellow man is the central dilemma.

Step 4

  • Deal with each relevant point individually using PEER.

  • Each paragraph might contain several pieces of evidence and evaluation of varying complexity.

  • Where appropriate (usually in your evaluation), refer back to the key word of the question (“compassion”).

  • Aim for 6+ detailed paragraphs in your whole essay.


The first stanza of the poem is crucial in establishing the setting and, more importantly, the reader’s sympathy for the central character. The reader finds him a lonely and tormented man, trying to cope with the pressures of his job as he develops photographs in his “darkroom”. This setting is potentially symbolic, as the ambiguity of the word suggests not only the literal room in which he develops his photos, but also the idea of psychological darkness: anguish. Yet, paradoxically, the darkroom is both symbolic of his mental imprisonment and a place of refuge from the stresses of his job. Inversion emphasises “finally alone” at the end of the line. These words seem to suggest that solitude is an escape for the photographer. As we read on, we are able to understand why – his job involves a continuous strain on his emotions. He is clearly a caring and sensitive man who understands the terrible suffering he documents. This compassion has been tested however. The “spools of suffering” that he develops are laid out in “ordered rows” suggesting that he tries to bring order to his world wherever he can, knowing how much disorder and chaos there is elsewhere. This whole opening section defines the photographer as the sole compassionate figure in the poem. He is anonymous – a figurehead for the entire profession – who represents the kind of caring, concerned person who might undertake the job of documenting important conflicts and atrocities.

Step 5

  • Once you’ve completed the main body of your essay, write a conclusion summing up your response.

  • Recap on the techniques you have mentioned and link back to the question once more.

Example Conclusion
In ‘War Photographer’, Duffy succeeds in portraying the conflicts and tensions which are an inherent part of any war photographer’s life. Where she excels, is in exposing the terrible dilemma of the job: between carrying out an undeniably worthy job and maintaining a sense of compassion towards the relentless suffering you are confronted with. Through her skilled use of language, the poet not only tugs at the reader’s heartstrings, but dares them to confront their own attitudes towards suffering. This is a vitally relevant question in a world which is currently plagued by civil war and conflicts, and where the population is arguably becoming desensitised to violence.
Useful Evaluative Phrases:








Gives the impression of/that...




Conjures up the idea of...

Creates a feeling of...

Brings to mind...

Suggested Revision Tasks

  • Read the poem over several times – learn important lines off by heart (Try sticking key quotes to your fridge, bedroom walls or ceiling above your bed to help you memorise them. Alternatively make them your screensaver or background on your PC!)

  • Show off to a friend or relative – teach them the poem! Explain to them what it is about and how the techniques you have studied work.

  • Practise writing PEER paragraphs on key quotes.

  • Practise writing essay plans. (Introduction, paragraph plans & conclusion, all adapted to fit a particular question)

  • Choose a question and write a full essay answer. Hand it in for marking and feedback.

  • Create and revise mnemonics for your key quotes.

  • Write and memorise an adaptable generic introduction and conclusion.

  • Create revision cards (ask your teacher for study-cards) for each key quote: draw a picture to go with each quote. Include your mnemonic on each card.

  • Use the internet to read other critics’ interpretations of the poem. Research Carol Ann Duffy, her life and other poetry. Check out her poem ‘Far Be It’ which has many links to ‘War Photographer’.

Evaluation Guide

Many people find the evaluation section of their essay tricky. Use these prompts and sentence starters to help you evaluate techniques in the poem.

The third step is the bit most people miss out. Anyone can spot a simile and explain what it is describing, but the examiner is looking to see that you can relate the use of poetic techniques to the poem’s overall theme, message or purpose.






What does it tell us about the characters in the poem?

What does it add to the reader’s understanding of the whole situation?

What does it make the reader think about?

What does it tell us about the poet’s message?

How does it relate to Duffy’s theme?

How does it make you feel?



Word Choice – give connotations

Imagery (similes & metaphors) – identify the 2 things being compared

Personification – explain what is being personified

Oxymoron – explain why it is an oxymoron

Enjambment – explain what word is emphasised and where it is

Parenthesis – explain what words are in parenthesis and why

Ambiguous meaning – what are the two possible meanings?

Contrast – what two things are being contrasted? How are they different?




When talking about ________ Duffy uses [name technique]……

When describing ____________ Duffy employs a [name technique]

In lines ______ Duffy uses [name technique] when describing _______________

The use of [name technique] helps give the reader an impression of ____________

Using [name technique] in lines ________ helps give the reader a picture of _________

The poet describes ____________________ in line ________ using [name technique]

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