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 the bath and pre-lunch beers.

From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where

he earns his living and they do not care.

Carol Ann Duffy


Mass*: A religious service

Sunday’s supplement*: A regular additional section placed in a Sunday newspaper

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24 comments on “War Photographer
  1. Profile photo of Phoebe Cushion says:

    In the poem ‘War photographer’ the poet writes ‘blood stained into foreign dust’. This implies that the blood of the soldiers who were killed is a stain that can never be removed. The word ‘foreign’ is effective because it conveys that the soldiers have died away from their homes and away from their families, which makes the reader feel empathy for them.
    Furthermore, the blood has stained ‘dust’ and dust is an object that can easily be swept away and forgotten about. This idea strongly juxtaposes the concept of the stain that can never be removed.

  2. Profile photo of Yasmin Aumeeruddy says:

    Carol Ann Duffy describes the soldier’s presence as temporary, however; as a permanent memory. “The blood stained into foreign dust”. The use of the word “stained” illustrates how the destruction and devastating memories of war will be present for a long time. This is effective because it causes the reader to convey sympathy for the country at war. An alternative analysis would be dependent on the word “dust”. “Dust” is present when something is left alone or neglected for an extremely long time and Duffy uses this to describe the country’s quality. The word juxtaposes to “stain” which is something that cannot be removed or is very difficult to do so. This is effect as the reader would think that the soldier’s life plays a big part in the war and would stay in, however; dust represents how life is short and should be appreciated

  3. Profile photo of Kerry-Louise Boyne says:

    Through out the poem the idea of war always being remembered is porteayed and the thought that it effects everyone not just those who have lost their lives.
    When someones’s mind is blank they normally aren’t thinking about anything which is what is portrays in the opening verse, ‘In his darkroom he is finally alone’ When your in a photographers dark room you physically can’t seen anything otherwise the pictures will be ruined which could imply that he doesn’t want to reveal the truth behind the pictures because his blank mind will then be filled with painfull memories of what he saw during the war. It could also have a bleak menaing behind it that becuase these men were fighting and killing others they were going against the idea of Christian teachings to not hurt or murder so it conveys the idea that they are going to hell in a dark pit like the darkroom; however, it could also prtray the flip thought of that which is that the soldiers and their families are in darkness now but once the pictures have been developed the families can have closure and the soldiers will be shown in the light which could be portaying heaven which would show a patriotic feel to war.

  4. Profile photo of Evelina Peterson says:

    The poem ‘the war photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy shows the poets views towards society and the agonies of war, as well as the lack of interest of mankind towards it. The personality of the war photographer is suitable as he is between these two realities. On one side, he is in such a state to compare the two worlds and he feels disgust to the uncaring world, and guilt at being the one to exploit the suffering of the dying soldiers. On the other hand, he knows that he cannot change the world, nor stop the war or ‘bloodshed’ from happening. All he can do in his job, is to capture the pain in his photos, but he cannot make them feel what he does, nor show them his memories. The idea that “blood is stained into foreign dust” shows that something is left alone or neglected for a very long time, which Duffy uses to describe the country’s quality. The use of the word “dust” juxtaposes the word “stain” as dust can be easily swept away and forgotten about, whereas a stain can never be removed. This adds to the idea that although the bodies of the dead soldiers may be taken away from the “foreign ground” however, their patriotic blood, and empathy will forever be stained there – they will never be forgotten.

  5. Profile photo of Felicity Hale says:

    Within this poem, we discover that it is about a man who works for a newspaper in England, and travels abroad to take photographs of more deprived countries which are suffering from war. “to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet/of running children in a nightmare heat.” This quote conveys that there are many people suffering in the war, and it affects the peaceful, harmless children for something they haven’t done. Also, it portrays that children in England don’t realise ow lucky they are compared to some children around the world that suffer daily with war.

  6. Profile photo of Sofia says:

    The poem ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy talks about the effects of war and death which is a main theme throughout the poem, “The only light is red and softly glows” This quotation has connotations of danger and blood that is lost in the war but it could also be the light in the room in which the photographer is developing the photos.
    The poem contains a plethora of religious imagery such as “intone a Mass,” and “…this were a church and he a priest,” ‘Intone a Mass’ means reciting a religious ceremony without any intonation. Intone a Mass is weekly meaning that it is repetitive and can represent the repetitive nature of war. It could that the poet is representing God and the people in the photos are waiting at the gate of heaven.

  7. Profile photo of Ellie says:

    In the poem ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy the poet mentions “agonies in black and white” this denotes the pain of people in black and white. However, this quotes connotes how black and white can represent simplicity so these photos over simplify war. This could also connote how by black and white being just ordinary colours, that in fact wars are starting to just become ordinary.
    Duffy also states “which did not tremble then” this conveys how he adapted and responded to his surroundings but when he sees the photos again its actually worse then when he was taking it which is unnatural.

  8. Profile photo of Phoebe Cushion says:

    The poem is about the inner conflict within a war photographer when he returns home to England after an assignment. The purpose of the poem is to demonstrate the suffering and devastation, both physically and emotionally, caused by war.
    “Solutions slop in trays”-”Solutions“ here has a double meaning. It refers literally to the fluid in the trays, but also suggests the idea of solving the political problems which cause war. ‘Slop’ suggests that these solutions to war are slipping away.
    “Rural England. Home again to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel”
    This quotation also shows the effect of war on the photographer’s mental state. He is struggling to adapt back into “normal” life after witnessing such horrors. The war has made everyday life seem meaningless and trivial in comparison to the suffering experienced by others in war zones.
    “Something is happening. A stranger’s features
    Faintly start to twist before his eyes,
    A half formed ghost.”
    An image is gradually appearing as a photo develops. The word “ghost” is ambiguous. It suggests the faint emerging image, but also that the man in the photo is dead (which is why the picture was taken).
    “He remembers the cries
    of the man’s wife, how he sought approval
    without words”
    The photographer recalls 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 he needs the wife’s approval in order to record the event.
    “The reader’s eyeballs prick
    with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers”
    Very cynical tone is conveyed from these lines. Duffy is suggesting that although the images may evoke some sympathy from the reader’s this sympathy is short lived.
    Duffy is suggesting the selfishness and self absorption of society as these people’s suffering is not as important as their “pre-lunch beers”.

  9. Profile photo of Deana says:

    In this poem Duffy tries to describe how the photographer within the poem is recreating terrible events that he has witnessed and bring them back through photographs.

    The word ‘dark’ is commonly associated with evil moreover ‘the only light is read and softly glows’ the word ‘red’ resembles blood and death. Also ‘ordered rows’ makes the readers think of graves lined up in a row or bodies waiting to be buried.

    Duffy uses powerful, meaningful and graphic imagery, because although people understand there is a war going on, to use this type of imagery Duffy can really get across the disturbing images of war to make the readers feel sadness and guilt. I think Duffy wanted the readers to feel these kind of emotions through the images, because I think Duffy felt many people were not fased and unconcerned towards the idea of war,m therefore by using these shocking images the people would be aware t the harsh realities of war.

    We can assume the photographer is probably a solkdier who has recently returned back home from war and is sturggling to try and contain the horrific images that he witnessed whilst at war. The main themes within the poem are death, and the effects of war.

  10. Profile photo of amy p says:

    Throughout the poem “War Photographer,” there are many connotations of death, violence and war. For example the phrase “intone a mass,” uses a simile to describe the photographer as he prepares to produce his photographs. The word “intone,” implies that it is a ritual that has been performed many times. This repetition highlights how war is repeating itself and never ending. Furthermore,most of the imagery throughout the poemy is of war and death however the quote “rural England,” juxtaposes this as it connotes ideas of safety. In addition the use of the word “dust,” is a metaphor for soldier’s lives, thus indicating that their lives are disposable. This further links into the previous ideas of repetition as it happens so often that people see their lives a disposable.

  11. Profile photo of Vicky Murkett says:

    The poet starts the poem with a photographer who is “finally alone”. This implies he is glad to be away from where he was before and can focus on his photographs. The poet gives a religious tone by using a religious lexical field “Church” “Mass” and “Priest”, this also makes the printing of the photos more significant and important. The red glow is like the red light known as a Sanctuary lamp in the Catholic Church which could be used to suggest the dead soldiers are in heaven. However it can also symbolizes blood, hate and danger which shows that’s the only emotions he can feel when looking at the pictures.
    In the next stanza we see the man justifying his work when Carol Ann Duffy writes, “He has a job to do.” This is when the true reality starts to hit which contradicts his calm nature when taking the pictures. The fact that he is home in “Rural England” could explain why it now feels so personal and why he finds his hands shaking.
    As the picture develops he sees the “half-formed ghost” of a man. This emotive language conveys how he is only starting to see the soldiers die now instead of at the time of the photograph being taken. He believes it is important to let everyone know what is happening in war but there is the portrayal of guilt and doubt when we are told, “how the blood stained into foreign dust”.
    “A hundred agonies” is what describes the contents of the photos and it shows how important and devastating war is even in the harmless form of a photo. However we know that only a small selection will be chosen to make an impact on the reader. “The reader’s eyeballs prick,” but it is only temporary as the readers will soon concentrate on something else “pre-lunch beers”. The poem ends with “They do not care” which rounds of the idea that despite all the suffering people have to go through and he has to witness it still doesn’t have the impact it should.

  12. Profile photo of Sophie says:

    War Photographer
    ‘In his darkroom he is finally alone’. I think that this relates to the photographer finally being allowed to process the true horrors that he has witnessed and documented. As until now he has been obscured from the pain and suffering, by the camera lens he was watching through. This idea is reinforced by the line ‘beneath his hands, which did not tremble then though seem to now’. This conveys how while he was in those moments, he did not have enough time to understand what was truly going on, he was simply focused on taking photographs. The fact that his hands are trembling ‘now’ when he is studying the horrors in front of him, shows how he perhaps feels guilty for not helping- that he is making money as a result of their misery.

  13. Profile photo of Brooke Roberts says:

    ‘The War Phototgrapher’ written by Carol Ann Duffy focuses on a war photographer returning home and looking back at the horrific photographs he had taken on the battle field.

    The line ‘he has a job to do’ connotes a link to the job he has done and job the soldiers have to do. This idea also emphasises the way that the people back in Britain don’t understand how bad it really is for te soldiers. That same idea is portrayed moment later in the poem when it mentions ‘…hand, which did not tremble then though sem to now.’ This illustrates the idea that someone needs to have been on te battle field and then compare when back in Britain to truly understand. This could be a reference to the post trauatic stress soldiers can suffer with when returning home from war.

    Another point that links the publics attitudes towards the war is when in mentiones how the images will be featured in the ‘Sunday supplement.’ The act of using war in a form of entertainment leaves the public with negative connotations.

  14. Profile photo of Katie Scott says:

    In the poem ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy, there are numerous phrases that have more than one meaning. “intone a mass” The literal meaning would be to recite a religious mass, without changing the tone of the speakers voice, therefore making it incredibly boring. If the reader takes God to be the photographer, then war would be the boring masses that he experiences everyday, showing the author’s opinion that war is unnecessary.
    “solutions slop” This is describing the solution that is used to develop photographs but the lexis “slop” could also be interpreted to be onomatopoeia for the dying soldiers, continuously falling to their deaths, who are the “solutions” to the problem (which would be war).
    “agonies in black and white” would literally be the pain displayed in black and white photographs. Alternatively, black and white is an expression that means simplicity, therefore juxtaposing the complexity of war. Also, it may be referring to different races thus symbolising that everybody suffers in war and the author believes that there are no winners.
    “stained into foreign dust” is describing the blood stained ground in war zones. However, if it is considered that a stain is something undesirable that is always wanted to be removed, then the wars would be the stains in history – something people wish to forget but will always see traces of. Dust is something very easy to remove whereas a stain is permanent so the ideas juxtapose each other.

  15. Profile photo of Jake Leggat says:

    War Photographer is a poem about how the war is seen through the eyes of a newspaper photographer. Carol Ann Duffy brings up some issues about War, and how we do not do enough to avoid it. She writes ‘Solutions slop in trays/beneath his hands’. The literal meaning of this phrase is that the photographer is going through the photos he has taken in his darkroom. However, the ‘solutions’ could also be viewed as being answers instead of just liquid. Because the answers ‘slop’, the poet could be saying that people have the power to find the answers to war, but we let them slip through our fingers. However, this phrase could also be perceived as being onomatopoeia for the soldiers dying, because they would have been fighting in muddy places which would make a ‘slopping’ sound when the run. Therefore, Duffy could be saying that the soldiers were the answer, because the pictures are of them.

  16. Profile photo of Hannah Gillespie says:

    The poem War Photographer shows the inner conflict within a photographer of war as he returns home to rural England after an assignment. Throughout the poem the photographer struggles to contain his feelings as the horrors he has witnessed resurface in his everyday life. The purpose of the poem is to demonstrate the suffering and devastation, both physical and emotionally, caused by war.
    In stanza 1 it states “In his darkness he is finally alone with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.” This quotation conveys the photographer’s awkwardness. The words ‘finally alone’ show that he prefers this and feels more comfortable in his own company. The metaphor ‘spools of suffering’ conveys the effects of war. It is an effective technique as Duffy is giving the connotation of camera spools. Camera spools are ordinarily filled with occasions filled with happiness; however, in this instance these photographs show the grim reality of war. In stanza 2 it says “solutions slop in trays.” The word ‘solutions’ here has a double meaning, it refers literally to the developing fluid in the trays but also suggests the idea of solving the political problems which cause war. In the last stanza it says “A hundred agonies in black-and-white.” The word choice of ‘agonies’ clearly demonstrates the effects of war on people’s lives. This word shows the suffering and pain caused by violence. Once again the words which Duffy uses have a double meaning. ‘Black and white’ on one level could refer to the black and white photographs the photographer has just developed. However, they could also refer to black and white as a symbol for good and evil.

  17. Profile photo of Sophie Thomas says:

    War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy portrays many thoughts and feelings from the perspective of a male photographer whom has just returned from taking pictures in a war.

    The quotation “..with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows” implies a plethora of meanings and imagery. “Spools of suffering” portrays the photographer’s spools in which hold the pictures he has taken. The word “suffering” implies pain and agony in which he captured in his pictures of what the population in the war zone are experiencing etc. Suffering being a negative word and clearly illustrating to the reader where he has been and seen.
    The phrase “set out in ordered rows” suggests that the spools are set out in an orderly fashion in which may reflect that of war graves in which are uniformly laid out. The idea of the spools representing war graves also runs in cohesion with what seems to be displayed on the spools- the suffering and death of many people.

  18. Profile photo of Meg Abery says:

    The poem ‘War Photographer’ was written by Carol Ann Duffy to illustrate her point of view one the effect of war photography on an audience. It is portraying her point of view of how an image in a newspaper will only affect a person reading in short term and then carry on as normal and discarded the image out their memory. However it also portrays how experiencing war first hand has a major effect in comparison of only previewing images of it.
    In the third stanza there is vague features of a man that could be argued was the photographer in the poem, which is like a spirit of a soldiers that he had taken the picture of. This links back to the first stanza of going into the dark room and processing the photos and see the picture of the solider it had taken the photographer back to the exact moment of which he had done taken this picture.

  19. Profile photo of Rhianna Creasey says:

    War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy uses an oxymoron between the rural countryside and the war imagery. This is used in the phrase ‘Rural England’ which has denotations of England being home. This also has connotations of how England juxtaposes the sights of war which could’ve been used by Duffy to show the harsh realities of the War.

    The final stanza conveys how behind every photo there are so many different stories that are described as “A hundred agonies” but only a small selection will be chosen to make an impact on the reader. They will have some effect. They will have enough to make the reader perhaps have tears in their eyes indicated when with “The reader’s eyeballs prick,” but it is only there for a moment to show how little impact the media has on those not affected. For that moment when they read the paper it will stir them but quickly the reader will be thinking of something else that is less important. The pain and suffering is trivialized in the ordinary lives people have which could be the message that Duffy is trying to get across to the reader.

  20. Profile photo of Rhianna King says:

    In the poem ‘War Photographer’ death and the reactions to war are addressed. In the first stanza, Duffy wrote “with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.” The use of alliteration with the letter ‘s’ mirrors how war continues to create ‘suffering’ in a repetitive way which no one is stopping. Furthermore, “ordered rows” implies the suffering is being categorised and ‘ordered’ without being stopped- like the photographs which some people will see and then forget, with no changes being made or suffering being stopped. This shows that Duffy believes the victims in the photographs should not be being left alone to suffer in silence and, although the photographer is giving them a voice, it is up to us to educate people about the harsh and terrible realities of war before any changes will be made. However, in the fourth stanza, people’s reactions are described as “The reader’s eyeballs prick with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.” This seems quite cynical and implies that, for the reader, the victims of war are not nearly as important as their “pre-lunch beers” and the photographer himself believes they “do not care”. By saying this, Duffy highlights how she believes the British public to be cruel in the respect that we simply glance at the photographs of war, for a while feel empathy but then soon forget and move on with our own lives and self-indulgences.

  21. Profile photo of jenna says:

    “War Photographer” written by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem focusing on a male photographer who has returned from war and is in the process of developing the photographs which he had taken whilst witnessing the war. The poet uses the phrase “beneath his hands, which did not tremble then though seem to now” to portray the idea of the photographer being so wrapped up in his job that only now, on return from the event, has he realised the horrid reality of the scenes which he captured. The word “tremble” denotes feelings of shock and is an uncontrollable action provoked by a feeling. This idea implies that the photographs are having such an impact on the man that he is the one suffering now, faced with the images he has produced.

  22. Profile photo of Georgina King says:

    Within the poem ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy, there is a lot of dark imagery which presents the poem in an unsettling way. Duffy writes “A hundred agonies in black and white” in reference to the black and white pictures. However, “black and white” implies that something is obvious; Duffy uses this description to show how obvious a solution to the problem of War is, yet people remain oblivious to it. Duffy concludes the poem with “he stares impassively at where/ he earns his living and they do not care.” to show that people are obstinate to attempt to act upon eliminating war and have come to live with suffering as a normal part of life. The photographer stares with no emotion as he is no longer shocked by what he witnesses and photographs. The people he photographs are said to “not care” as they have given up the hope of someone helping them and providing them with relief from this suffering. The use of an ABBCDD rhyme scheme in 4, 6-line stanzas reflects the idea of normality and a predictable outcome to the suffering. The poem is set in a fixed layout to show the rigid nature of human opinions and views and the idea of a never changing occurrence of events.

  23. Profile photo of charlie says:

    The War Photographer has a rhyme scheme of A,A,B,B however the first line and fourth line of each of the stanzas disrupt the rhyme scheme which represents how war disrupts the lives of many people and the countries involved in the war. The use of the word “mass” implies there is a religious theme in the poem as it is a religious ceremony which has a repetitive tone this shows that the repetitive tone of mass could imply the repetitive tone of war. “Home again” represents how the photographer is forced to adapt to his surroundings. “which did not tremble then” portrays how when the photographer was looking through the lens he was calm but when he was not looking through the lens the things he saw scarred him and made him scared. In the poem, Duffy symbolises the Photographer as God and the photos as Heaven.

  24. Profile photo of Lauren McCorkell says:

    The poem ‘War Photographer’ has frequent dark imagery throughout. Not all of this imagery is explicitly dark however there are connotations of darkness in the lexis used “A stranger’s features/faintly start to twist before his eyes”. The use of the word “twist” implies a creepy way of the image forming apposed to other equally as good words to describes the forming of the image. Carol Ann Duffy does this to add to the negative feel of the poem, it is not a line which stands out magnificently however it is significant to show how the author places language carefully.
    “spools of suffering set out in ordered rows” is another phrase of which shows how Duffy puts much consideration into her lexical choices. The juxtaposition of “spools” and “ordered rows” shows how confusing and messy war is. War is represented throughout the poem as something that is so traumatic that it has to be captured and recorded, even though it seems immorally wrong. Duffy may be trying to show how capturing unbearable images may help people think twice about war and violence.

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