The opening line
something is happening injects drama and suspense into the poem and suggests the photographer is not wholly in control of the development process. Duffy allows us to “see” the horrific photograph develop before our eyes.
In it, the photographer has captured the image of a man in his dying moments and he is described as a
half-formed ghost. This description is dually effective since it both describes the way the figure is gradually appearing on the paper, while also alluding to the fact that since he no longer exists he has effectively become a ghost.
The photographer recalls how, unable to speak the same language, he sought approval through the unspoken exchange of looks with the victim’s wife. Again the analogy to a priest is effective here as they, like this photographer, must tend to people in their final moments. The impact of this memory on the photographer and his sensitivity in seeking permission to capture such an intimate moment on film is clear.
Just like a priest, he feels his job is a vocation - a calling rather than a career as he asserts he does
what someone must. Although he is aware of the intrusiveness of his occupation, he conducts himself with the utmost compassion and sensitivity.