Putting words into pictures

Picture the Poet at Graves Art Gallery: Carol Ann Duffy by Peter Everard Smith, August '2005 � Peter Everard Smith
Picture the Poet at Graves Art Gallery: Carol Ann Duffy by Peter Everard Smith, August '2005 � Peter Everard Smith

The faces behind the words are revealed in a new photographic exhibition at the Graves Gallery.

Picture the Poet, which has come to Sheffield on tour from the National Portrait Gallery, brings together more than 50 portraits by leading contemporary photographers.

Picture the Poet at Graves Art Gallery: Sir Andrew Motion by Madeleine Waller, April  2006 � Madeleine Waller

Picture the Poet at Graves Art Gallery: Sir Andrew Motion by Madeleine Waller, April 2006 � Madeleine Waller

“We’re far more used to the subjects of the photographs being represented by the words they write, but these wonderful portraits offer a really unique insight into the people behind the poetry,” observed Alison Morton, Exhibition and Display Curator at Museums Sheffield.

The portraits cover a variety of themes including sense of place, love, loss, identity and struggle with examples from the 1950s to the present day.

They include studies of Michael Rosen, Carol Ann Duffy, Sir Andrew Motion, and Benjamin Zephaniah. Writers with local connections include Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield, Barnsley bard Ian Macmillan and Daljit Nagra who grew up in Sheffield.

His is one of a series of portraits at the centre of the exhibition by Madeleine Waller from a project she has worked on over 10 years. “She asked her subjects to choose a significant location to get a sense of their lives outside their poetry,” explained the curator.

So Sophie Hannah stands before shutter gates clutching a handbag, Sean O’Brien among shelves in a library, Wendy Cope and Andrew Motion out in the garden and Owen Shears sitting in a field.

Other photographers represented include Jemimah Kuhfeld, Norman McBeath, Donald McLellan, Peter Everard Smith and Maud Sulter.

Picture the Poet, part of a three-year partnership project between National Portrait Gallery, the National Literacy Trust and performance poetry organisation Apples and Snakes, is complemented by a programme of events and activities working with schools, teachers and young people.

In connection with Off the Shelf there will be an evening with one of the featured poets – Mimi Khalvati, the Anglo-Iranian writer, plus leading African poet Togara Muzanenhamo – in the Graves on October 14 and to mark the closing of Picture The Poet there will be an appearance by John Agard, the UK-based Afro-Guyanese poet and playwright in the company of American slam poet Buddy Wakefield on the evening of November 28 .

Ian Macmillan will be leading a day of schools poetry workshops in the gallery on Wednesday, September 24.

A group of young adults worked with Sheffield professional photographer Chris Saunders over the summer to create their own portraits and the resulting digital photographs are on display alongside the exhibition.

Picture the Poet runs until November 29 at the Graves which has extended its opening hours to include Tuesdays and until 6pm on Wednesdays.