Visual whispers: From image to sketch via text

Phil Coomes
Picture editor


What does a picture mean to you? That's the idea behind a Photographer Writer Illustrator by the Brighton-based group Miniclick.

They took eight pictures by eight photographers and stripped them of all context before handing them to a writer to create a fictional narrative around, or perhaps a poem. The resulting text was then passed to an illustrator for their version of the event, though one step removed from the picture. The results are intriguing, and sometimes unexpected.

Here is a selection of the work, each picture followed by the text and then illustration. I wonder how you would have interpreted each of the pictures?

Photographer Matt Henry

image copyrightMatt Henry

Gemma Padley's response to Matt Henry's picture

Reflections of a fallen game-show host

Today I hung up my microphone for the last time, for tomorrow I begin a new life, although I know not where this path will take me. The mask will come off and I shall take my final bow. But tonight I shall live as the man I used to be.

I've courted the limelight for 40 years, entertaining live audiences with my jokes, pulling out all the stops to "make 'em laugh" no matter the cost.

My weekly show - Mister Star's Jackpot - used to pull in audiences of 20 million at its peak. I was the funniest man on TV; queues would snake around the block as people clamoured to be part of the audience - my audience.

But gradually the laughter subsided. People stopped finding my jokes funny, the queues no longer snaked around the block; people stopped clamouring.

When TCG-G - Telly Corporation Go-Go - took over the network, everything changed.

"We've gotta move with the times Mister Star," the bosses told me. "People want something new, something different. No room for old hats around here."

My former prime-time show was bumped back again and again, and I watched as new faces moved in - young pups, full of life and enthusiasm, just like how I used to be. The ratings kept sliding and my morale dipped lower and lower.

Eventually the end came, and even though I had been expecting it, the blow was no less painful. "Mister Star, we have no choice but to axe your show. Thank you and goodbye."

Tellyland has been my life, my identity for as long as I can remember, and without it, I know not what I am.

I am too old, too tired to keep playing these games.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to the man who has been part of my life for all these years - it's time to pack your bags Mister Star, you're off on a new adventure.

Illustrator Marcus Gilham's response to the letter by Gemma Padley

image copyrightJim Stephenson

Photographer Jocelyn Allen

image copyrightJocelyn Allen

Sofia Smith's response to Jocelyn Allen's picture

At Dresden

At Dresden, Lost Waters,

A purse to fill with acorns

In Witchy Oaken Woods.

A hunting horn sounds,

The weep and wail

On weird baited wind.

Headless Huntsman!

Between sprig and spray,

Over pool and glen

You come to hollow fen,

Wrapped in a shroud

Of grey bodied mist.

Dread horseman, sick pale nag.

Illustrator Tomas Rooney's response to the poem by Sofia Smith

image copyrightTomas Rooney

Photographer Jen Davis

image copyrightJen Davis

Bryony Good's response to Jen Davis's picture

I moved the bed to be next to the window. I like lying and looking out at the treetops. I like the cool breeze while I doze. The rows of gardens out the back of our building are quieter that you would imagine. The Victorian town houses are broken into flats, each rented by professional couples, no children, no pets, no smokers. This gives our bedroom stillness about it, the trees sway silently.

Despite this attempt to calm it, my urge to escape isn't yet satisfied. I suffer the sort of urges that lead me to close your eyes and smell the leaves of a plant, just to get a shot at casting your mind into wilderness. I do this often. I'll catch the smell of a plant, close my eyes and picture myself in a field full of them. Touch-me-not's are the most effective, the plant with pods of seeds that pop when you squeeze them in your fingers, suddenly they will have me surrounded.

I purposely took him where I knew the paths were lined with them.

Walking through the woods I take large gulps of the air, taking in the musty ground, the fresh leaves and damp morning air. We both do, clawing our way out of ourselves and into a world of our own. We walk along silently for short periods of time, listening to the river's sounds and the rustling trees pushing us further into our other world. When we speak we are quiet, giving the sounds around us room to accompany us. We tell each other stories from our pasts, escaping into other times.

At first I feel vulnerable speaking about myself. But he only encourages me, asking questions when I pause, making sure I feel secure. Like birds whistling their own tunes at each other, we each take it in turn to tell our tales, to imagine ourselves in each other's pasts.

We share cynicism too, criticising the banal occurrences that drive us to instance like this. Taking in the vast woodland around us it hardly felt like anything else could matter. Like anyone else could matter.

We stop by the river; he leads us to a clearing we can sit in. A patch of fresh green grass covered in morning dew, surrounded by touch-me-nots so the air is thick with their sweet smell. We are hidden from the view of the path. I feel protected, safe from reality.

He lies down on the damp grass, I do the same, I don't care about getting my clothes wet. For a while we lie in silence, I stare up at the sky, the tops of the trees sway gently. Listening to the sounds that surround us they suddenly they seem louder than before, like they're closing in on us. I close my eyes and without remembering when finally I drift off to sleep.

The moments that take you the furthest are, unfortunately, those that last the shortest amounts of time. Moments that propel you away from all you know. Like there is no past or future anymore.

I wake up at home in bed; I blink, trying to focus. I am faced with my wooden blinds, beams of light shine through in long lines that run right through my eyes. I consider staying there, eyes stinging, rather than face the dullness of the day ahead. But eventually I give in, move into the shade, and focus on the treetops.

Illustrator Hannah Clare in response to the essay by Bryony Good

image copyrightHannah Clare

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