The Long Way Home

Closet Photographers

I’m drawn to writers who turned to photography or photographers turned writers or artists who choose to do both because this is me. I’m always looking for answers as to how the two arts coexist in a creative mind. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to accept that both exist inside of me. I came to photography more recently, and I’ve always identified as a writer.

I’ve been a closet photographer for years, living in denial every time I’d go for my camera instead of sitting in front of the computer to write stories. In grad school, my friend Dan and I would spend afternoons going for drives, looking for places to take pictures when we both should have been writing (he’s a writer too, although he is a talented photographer as well), but instead we told stories through the lens.

Julia Margaret Cameron was a late-Victorian photographer who explored literature and mythology through portraiture. Prior to her turning to photography at the age of 48, she was an aspiring writer who was friends with the likes of Alfred Tennyson and Henry Taylor. Learning this bit of information, I now study her photographs in a completely different way. Why did she abandon writing? What made her embrace photography with such enthusiastic fearlessness?  She would still make a print from a cracked glass negative just to preserve the image.

Sappho c. 1866

Sappho c. 1866

Lewis Carroll‘s photography was considered merely a hobby, but has now gained respect in the art world, as well as generated controversy with his photos of naked children. With his mathematician’s attention to detail, he viewed photography as more of a science to be explored rather than an art.

After reading one of my favorite creepy novels of all time, Therese Raquin, I was curious to discover that Emile Zola was also a closet photographer. I have been trying to find examples of his work online, but I only came across this self-portrait from someone’s Flickr page.

While browsing at Barnes & Noble one afternoon this past spring, I bought The Well and the Mine simply because of the photograph of a barefoot young girl sitting on a porch railing. Eudora Welty had taken the photograph when she worked for the WPA during the Great Depression. In a New York Times 1989 interview, Welty is modest about her photographs, calling them ‘snapshots.’ I was hoping, as the interviewer seemed to hope, that Welty would make connections with photography and writing, let us in on the big secret – did one art fuel the other?

Welty compared her photographic ‘snapshots’  to short stories in that each, if done well, captures a moment that could have been lost. She had proposed a book of short stories accompanied by her photographs to her publisher in the 1950s, but there wasn’t a market for this sort of project. Knowing that she was also a photographer allows me to read her fiction through the eye of her lens.


4 Comments so far
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I stumbled this by googling the phrase “writing in the dark”. Needless to say, I am happy that I stumbled across your lovely blog. The tidbit about Eudora wanting write accompanying short stories for a series of her photographs struck me in particular, since she’s one of my favorite authors and I’ve actually contemplated doing something similar with a photographer friend. I think it’s time to dust off my old Canon, ah. 🙂


Comment by Sarahhh

S, Thanks for reading! Your blog is lovely as well. I am always questioning how photography and writing fuel each other, and the more I do both, the more I just let it happen. Definitely dust off the Canon, you’ll be happy that you did!


Comment by Lisa

This is amazing. I understand. In fact, I made a blog about telling stories through art, though writing is, and always will be, my first love. I am more drawn to photographs though. I once read that a painting reveals 100x more than a photo ever will because it captures everything the artist painted over the many, many hours he sat examining his subject–much more like a novel, I think, than a photograph, which captures a moment, though both speak volumes.


Comment by todaysnewsart

I’ve always been drawn to photographs more than paintings as well, and this became more evident when I was in grad school. My peers would talk about authors and books that inspired them to write, but many of my story ideas came from photographs. When I try to compare writing and photography, I think of photos being like short stories and films as novels. Writing will always be my first love as well – photography is a good escape when the words just aren’t there.
Thank you so much for sharing! I’d love to read your blog as well, send me a link.


Comment by Lisa

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