Faces of Poetry

Past beyond the gallery archive
2 October - 14 November 2010

Manor House, Ilkley


  • Partnership exhibition
NPG x126174 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Deryn Rees-Jones
by Rizwan Mirza
3 June 2001
NPG x126174

In the early years of the twenty-first century the public and media interest in poets and poetry has reached new heights. Evidenced by large attendance at poetry readings and the growing virtual world of online publishing, poetry proves itself to be an ever-vibrant and regenerative literary form.

This display reveals to the public for the first time photographs of poets collected by the National Portrait Gallery over a number of years, and particularly centres on a group of newly acquired photographs by the Australian-born, London-based photographer Madeleine Waller. An emerging photographic talent - whose work was first displayed in the Gallery as part of the 2006 Photographic Portrait Prize - Waller places her literary subjects within environments that have informed and shaped their work, aiming to capture the face behind the words, the personality behind the poems. To accompany the photographs, Waller also includes poems written by the sitters which feature alongside each of their portraits in the display.

Waller's collection, which includes contemporary poets such as Jo Shapcott and Lemn Sissay, is complemented by the work of longer-established photographers such as Dudley Reed and Arthur Tress, who have contributed portraits of the iconic figures James Fenton and Thom Gunn respectively. Mark Gerson (b.1921) is Britain's best-known literary photographer, who started his photographic career in 1947, and has specialised in literary portraits taken on location or at writers' homes. Gerson is featured in the display with portraits of Seamus Heaney and Blake Morrison. Other photographers featured include Norman McBeath (b.1952), who is represented here by his black and white studies of Douglas Dunn, Paul Muldoon, Don Paterson and Tom Paulin. The Scottish-based McBeath also specialises in social documentary photography and has been working on a book of portraits of poets.

‘Faces of Poetry' presents a cross-section of the writers who shape the world of contemporary British poetry. Presented alongside extracts of the poets' work, these photographs offer an insight into the individuals who have created some of the most important and best-loved poetry of the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

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