Using Photos to Inspire Writing

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Reflect & Write: White on White and The Absence of Color

Black & White Images Stimulate Discussion, Writing Creativity

Using simple black and white images as stimuli for creativity.

By Hank Kellner | Updated April 22, 2019

Resourceful teachers and others interested in encouraging writing know how to use even the simplest of black and white images as stimuli for discussion and the creation of written compositions. For example, what does a photograph of a fire hydrant bring to mind? Or a doorway? Or a pair of shoes? Or just about any other thing that we see during the course of a normal day? The list is as endless as the number of images that exist in today's digital universe.

Cracked Eggs

A teacher of English at Lake Forest High School, Lake Forest, Illinois, Mara Dukats writes of "shells of empty eggs" when she discusses a broken love affair. Using imagery of objects to express her emotions, the poet expresses her feelings in such words as embers, ashes, gritty gravel, and eggshells. This poem, its accompanying image, and the keywords "fragile," "broken," "fallen," and "eggs" provide unlimited opportunities for writers of all ages to relate everyday objects to different feelings or emotions.

cracked egg shells

White on White

these are words i've been avoiding for
some time now
their embers still burn in the ashes of
where i've tried so many times
to bury them

you see, i've fallen and
not even the shimmer of your cocoa eyes
can catch me, for
i've landed and it's really not
that harsh
not as gritty as the gravel playground
on a moonless night

i'm shattered on the inside, fragile on
the outside, but strangely whole, you see
i've fallen and i've scraped my knees and
i've an ebbing pain like
shells of empty eggs that spill

no trace of yolks
for yellow is too soft a color
white on white
i've fallen and this time I've got the words
just right
i've fallen out of love.

The Color of Sadness

Cynthia Staples is a writer-photographer-painter based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For more of Staple's writing, visit her blog at Her poem, "The Absence of Color," describes emotional states in terms of color (or the absence of color) while at the same time reversing the traditional impression of black and white. This poem-photo combination can initiate discussions about how certain colors affect emotions. Accompanied by the following quotation from Shakespeare's Richard III: "Sorrow breaks seasons and reposing hours, Makes the night morning, and the noontide night," the poem can also lead to a discussion of contrast as a rhetorical device.

black & white photo inside building

The Absence of Color

Does sadness have a color?
Muted blue perhaps tinged with gray.
White with ash layered throughout like Morbier cheese?
Not black. Black is beautiful
As are gold, brown, and green.
They indicate life.
Sadness equals absence
Of light and color and warmth.
Arctic white, then yes,
That's the color of sadness.

As with Mara Dukat's "White on White" and its accompanying image, "The Absence of Color" and its image provide many opportunities for inspiring writing. It's interesting to note, however, that either the photos alone or the poems alone will help to accomplish the same goal. But that's not all. Why not encourage students to create their own images and then write accompanying poems or other forms of writing?

Next: Power of Visual Evokes Meaningful Writing

"White on White" and "The Absence of Color" originally appeared in Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing by Hank Kellner and Elizabeth Guy (Prufrock Press, 2013). Photos by the author.